If forensic film historians of the future ever care to sift through the charred remains of the current American independent scene, they'd do well to start with writer-director Bart Freundlich, who in two films (a third, World Traveler, was barely released theatrically) has done his level best to kill it single-handedly. Both of those films have meaningless titles: 1997's The Myth Of Fingerprints is obscure on its surface, while the title of his new comedy, Trust The Man, seems explicable, but turns out to be a bafflement. The Myth Of Fingerprints was a Sundance hit, but was every bit as pretentious and impenetrable as its title, like a po-faced version of Kevin Bacon's horrible black-and-white dream project in The Big Picture. Trust The Man presents itself as a funny, insightful Manhattan relationship comedy in Woody Allen mode, but morphs into the phoniest of Hollywood rom-coms. That's the Freundlich touch: He makes independent films that appear sophisticated, but don't have a shred of substance underneath.
A good cast helps him sustain the illusion for a while. It's led by his wife Julianne Moore, who stars as a respected actress and mother of two grappling with the sex addiction of househusband David Duchovny. When Moore balks at Duchovny's twice-a-day inclinations, his eyes naturally stray elsewhere, sabotaging their marriage. Meanwhile, their closest friends have reached a crisis point in their seven-year relationship: Would-be children's author Maggie Gyllenhaal pines for marriage and children, while her boyfriend Billy Crudup remains mired in a state of suspended adolescence. Complicating both situations is the fact that Crudup is Moore's brother and Duchovny's main confidante, while Gyllenhaal's connection to Moore is equally close. Where do their allegiances lie? And will these friendships be able to survive these dual ruptures?
These would be intriguing questions, if only Freundlich took them seriously. Instead, he tends to get cutesy whenever the mood turns too dour, having Duchovny regale a sex-addiction support group with a made-up story about his deli-meat fetish, or trotting out book publisher Ellen Barkin to make a pass at the oblivious Gyllenhaal. In true rom-com fashion, the alternative mates for this foursome are unthreatening jokes: Gyllenhaal dallies with a folkie (James LeGros) and a German likened to a character on "Sprockets," Crudup connects with a vapid sexpot (Eva Mendes) from college, and a sycophantic young actor makes the moves on Moore. It's only a matter of time before Freundlich tidies up this mess, but that still doesn't excuse the most shameless climax this side of Love Actually.