The trust between storyteller and audience implies that the creator truly create, rather than merely fabricate.
That’s what makes Bart Freundlich’s “Trust the Man” such a disappointment. For all the promise of a cast led by Julianne Moore and David Duchovny in an urbane, adult chronicle of love and marriage, the movie just strings viewers along through phony contrivance, like any other romantic comedy.
The characters meander into artificial predicaments and domestic crises that don’t feel authentic or natural.
Rather, they seem like pat stereotypes from the domestic-drama front: The thirtysomething man-child who can’t commit. The longtime girlfriend obsessed about having a baby. The career-oriented woman who won’t put out for her spouse. The hubby who’s not getting any at home and so finds what he’s looking for elsewhere.
Sure, such scenarios often happen in real life. Writer-director Freundlich just doesn’t make what transpires among his characters come off as sincere for these particular people.
His characters are slick but sloppy constructs. Moore and Duchovny play a seemingly affectionate couple well-adjusted to their working-woman, stay-at-home dad arrangement, yet they don’t have sex, not for any apparent reason but only to push Freundlich’s story forward.
Likewise, Billy Crudup’s character is a big, goofy kid who refuses to grow up only so Freundlich can set him at odds with his family-minded girlfriend (Maggie Gyllenhaal).
Moore, who costarred in husband Freundlich’s “The Myth of Fingerprints” and “World Traveler,” plays Rebecca, a successful movie actress now starting a stage play in New York City.
Husband Tom (Duchovny) minds their two kids, and the two make irregular visits to a marriage counselor (Duchovny buddy Garry Shandling), where they sputter about their nonexistent sex life then cuddle and kiss on the street afterward like a couple that’s having no trouble maintaining the romance in their marriage.
Tom’s best pal is Rebecca’s brother Tobey (Crudup, star of “World Traveler”), who’s been dating Elaine (Gyllenhaal) for eight years but keeps resisting her pressure to marry and start a family.
Just as their domestic lives feel forced, so too the couples’ trials are staged and bogus. Relationships strain to the breaking point, partners split or embark on adulterous flings, awkward new relationships start up.
While the characters are synthetic, the performers are very engaging together. Moore and Duchovny, who starred in the alien-invasion comedy “Evolution,” have a relaxed, old-married-couple grace, the usually sober Crudup shows nice comic charm, and Gyllenhaal infuses far more depth than her cliched character carries on the page.
Shandling’s role is barely more than a cameo, and other peripheral characters are thrown in to little purpose, particularly Ellen Barkin as a book editor whose encounter with Elaine seems potentially meaningful at the time but goes nowhere.
Eva Mendes has a nondescript role as an old flame of Tobey’s, while James Le Gros manages some quirky humor as a new suitor of Elaine.
“Trust the Man” plays out like a lightweight version of Woody Allen’s “Husbands and Wives,” the movie presenting one of those painful public-spectacle climaxes where the lead players try to resolve their issues with an audience of strangers looking on.
In the end, what Freundlich means as literate, insightful domestic reflection turns to trivial, empty farce that isn’t even funny.