' ' Cinema Romantico: Trust the Man

Monday, August 21, 2006

Trust the Man

I'm sure most of America spent its weekend taking in the strange phenomenon of "Snakes on a Plane". Good for them. I'm not most of America. Therefore I spent my weekend taking in "Trust the Man". This is the new film from writer/director Bart Freundlich. Who? Good question and I have an even better answer. He was the auteur of "The Myth of Fingerprints" - an unquestioned masterpiece and one of my 5 all-time favorite films. His follow-up to that sublime cinematic wonder was "World Traveler", a big letdown for me aside from Billy Crudup's excellent lead performance (is there any other kind? And no, "Mission Impossible III" doesn't count). So I was beyond interested to see if Freundlich could put the sophmore jinx behind him and return to proper form.

Tragically, he does not. If anything, "Trust the Man" is a bigger letdown than "World Traveler". I was forcing myself to laugh at things that weren't funny just because I so desperately wanted them to be funny. Never a good sign. This is Freundlich's blatant attempt to be Woody Allen. It's set in New York and has many shots of the city. The characters talk - lots and lots of talk. They walk and talk, eat and talk, sit in apartments and talk. But whereas Freundlich's dialogue in "Myth of Fingerprints" was so brilliant, here it is the polar opposite.

Where has his gift for subtle writing gone? In his first movie the characters talked as real people do. There was so much subtext. But in "Trust the Man" everyone spells everything out and speak with a frankness that does not mirror reality in any way. That sort of dialogue can still be effective but you're walking a fine line. Allen can walk it (or could back in the '70's and '80's). Freundlich does not. At least not here.

He does not get much help from his cast, either (though to be fair they don't have much with which to work). David Duchonovoy is exactly the same as he is in every other movie. Maggie Gyllenhall is just okay. Even the usually fantastic Julianne Moore doesn't seem herself. Only the incomparable Billy Crudup brings his A game (which is so refreshing to see after the debacle of "Mission Impossible III"). As I've stated and reiterated, he gets no assistance from the words on the page so he uses facial expressions and reaction shots and physical acting to make the performance work. It's really quite amazing to see. It's kind of like watching a baseball player on a last place team who is still out there every game getting hits, diving for ground balls, and looking around at his teammates wondering why they can't keep up.

Billy Crudup is such an incredible actor that he can make retrieving "The Way We Were" from Tivo into a moving moment. He is such a marvelous actor that he can make delivering the climactic plea to the woman he loves in a crowded theater surrounded by strangers in tuxedos (really, could we get more ancient and cliched?) work somehow.

As great as he is, sadly, he can't save the film on all his own. Therefore, it cannot be recommended. If you want to see a movie like this, rent Woody Allen's "Manhattan". You will be much happier.

"The Myth of Fingerprints" will always hold a special place in my heart. Nothing can change that. But I can only find the strength to give Freundlich himself one more film. After that, I stop giving him the benefit of the doubt.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How can you not like this movie? I was brilliant.