Two New York couples faces problems with sex and commitment. But Closer this is not: Trust the Man is slight, silly and somewhat soulless, a mixture of tidy stereotypes, off-the-wall mishaps and naff therapists.
More chick-lit than rom-com, the laughs are all pratfalls and sex-jokes. However, an excellent cast, led by Julianne Moore, Maggie Gyllenhaal and David Duchovny, manage to ensure things stay charming.
Tom (Duchovny) and Rebecca’s (Moore) marriage is on the rocks: she is a successful actress and he has quit his job to spend more time with the kids and internet pornography. Across town, Tobey (Crudup) and Elaine (Gyllenhaal), are reaching their seventh year, and seem to be stuck on hold. She wants a baby and a book-deal and he’s worried about death and finding a parking space. Both women try to work out what went wrong while the men avoid the issues: throw in a cute divorcee and some adventurous dating and things are bound to go wrong…
Writer-director Bart Freundlich’s film is a ragbag of ideas and one-liners. Characters come and go, some disappearing mid-strand without a trace. Sub-plots are set up but few survive through to the end. Even the title is fairly arbitrary and has little bearing on the film. We are left with numerous unanswered questions: what happened to Tom’s mistress, Tobey’s old flame or Elaine’s publisher? What is Rebecca’s problem anyway? Why does Elaine bother with Tobey at all?
Only by following a time-honoured formula – boy loses girl, boy embarrasses himself in public, there’s a wedding – does the film keep any sense of progress. Composed of about a million scenes each thirty second long, it’s like watching an entire season of Friends condensed into ninety minutes. Some sections are funny, some are touching, many are bizarre. There’s some Bridget Jones-style slapstick, and a whole shade of bluer comedy.
It is left to the cast to give this flimsy script any weight; but they do a good job. Moore and Duchovny have a tired disrespect for each other and the ever-widening gap in their marriage is well realised. With less to work with, Maggie Gyllenhaal still comes out sparkling, and the nice-but-drippy Elaine stays on the likeable side of shallow. All four leads show a flair for comedy and are at their wittiest in quick asides and sly glances. But in the end, the character’s motivations are shallow and cheap and the dramatic scenes feel more like misjudged comedy.
The finale, in which the male figures realise their own ineptitude (despite Tom being a pretty good Dad), strives for the tone of High Fidelity but collapses under its own cod-psychology. “I don’t want to be a cold sarcastic blocked-off man anyone,” shouts Toby: never mind that he’s been warm (if immature) throughout, but it makes it sound like what Tobey wants is a sex-change rather than a girlfriend. The eventual happy ending is present and correct but neglects to address any of the character’s problems. We are left to rely on the incidental music for our sense of closure.
If Trust the Man were a book it would have a pink cover and a 2-for-1 sticker. It’s forgettable stuff, watchable only for Gyllenhaal and Duchovny having such a great time.