Monday, September 11, 2006

Bart Freundlich Trusts the Man(hattan)

I wrote this review for my critical writing class. I will probably revise it later after I get feedback from the class.

“Trust the Man” could easily be the film version of “Sex and the City,” except the principal quartet is comprised of two heterosexual couples rather than four single girls. Like the television show, the film has a great ensemble cast (close friends, Julianne Moore, David Duchovny, Billy Crudup, and Maggie Gyllenhaal), but where “Sex and the City” is a smart and innovative look at relationships in the big city, “Trust the Man” stops short. It could have been a great movie, but it ends up being a mediocre one.

Director Bart Freundlich wrote a film that is a love letter to Manhattan. The characters frequent the trendiest eateries—Serendipity, Pastis, Magnolia, and Sardi’s—and walk through the Gates at Central Park. These location shots are so piled on top of each other that they do not serve any purpose except to make the audience think that Freundlich is trying too hard. If he loves the city so much he should have attempted to make a movie that would do it justice.
In this self-indulgent film, three characters are writers and the fourth, Rebecca, is a successful actress, played by Freundlich’s wife Moore, naturally. In the film she is married to Tom (Duchovny), a stay-at-home dad with a sex addiction. Duchovny plays Tom with an understated sadness that makes him the most appealing character even after cheating on his wife.

Rebecca’s brother and Tom’s best friend, Tobey (Crudup, looking surprisingly unkempt), is in the seventh year of his relationship with Elaine (Gyllenhaal), but has no interest in getting married. Crudup manages to make his lazy bum of a character likeable simply because it’s impossible for Crudup not to be charming even when playing a guy who farts, makes inappropriate comments, and stalks his psychiatrist. Gyllenhaal is such a talented actress that usually makes risky film choices so it’s a wonder that she agreed to play such an annoyingly bland character incapable of thinking for herself (she submits a picture of herself in a bikini with her children’s book proposal because Tobey tells her to).

“Trust the Man” suffers from inconsistency. Anybody who saw the trailer would expect a sophisticated comedy about quirky New Yorkers. Such a movie should be witty and fresh and occasionally it is. At other times the film is riddled with bathroom humor and cheap tactics usually reserved for romantic comedies.

The movie loses all credibility at the end. The premiere of Rebecca’s play turns into a silly spectacle with over the top physical comedy inconsistent with the realistic tone the rest of the film appears to be going for. Then the film becomes overly sentimental as everything is neatly resolved. Freundlich should have taken is own advice and trusted himself to delve deeper into the relationships that are obviously semi-autobiographical.

“Trust the Man” is as flawed as its characters, and like its characters, it has some appealing traits, but these are not enough to save this picture from its confused self.

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