Less satirical poison-pen letter than inept psychological drama, Trust Me is a nearly comprehensive misstep from writer-director-star Clark Gregg, whose intentions are muddled from an opening voiceover that doubles as a frame narrative, with Howard (Gregg), a fledgling agent for child actors, bleeding on a staircase and pontificating about being reborn in a more fitting form than his current life affords. With almost no reasoning for such a bizarre foreshadowing, Gregg then launches weeks into the past, with Howard competing against a rival agent (Sam Rockwell) for ownership of Lydia (Saxon Sharbino), who’s in serious contention to star in a new franchise that is, according to Lydia, “like Harry Potter.” From here, Gregg attempts to juggle nearly a dozen characters, a handful of subplots, and imprecise potshots at Hollywood goings-on, namely agent jargon concerning acting contracts and “backstabbing assbandits,” as Howard cringingly puts it. Unfortunately, almost none of the characters or scenarios escape feeling contrived under Gregg’s bizarro tonal shifts and plot developments, which include sexual abuse, incest, much expletive spouting, one-dimensional studio execs, and one of the most risible endings of any film this side of The Life of David Gale.
Gregg’s weak direction necessitates not only telegraphing the film’s endpoint from the opening scene, but ensures that the proceedings will eventually turn to violence of some sort. It’s as if the filmmaker dangles a bloody ending as a treat or attraction in an attempt to whet the more licentious viewer’s appetite. Or, perhaps, Gregg wishes to bestow the proceedings with a tragic grandiosity to ironically invert Howard’s growingly pathetic, miniscule stature. Whatever the intention, it’s mangled by Gregg’s inability to convincingly psychologize Howard beyond boilerplate facts and simple motivations, like Howard having been a child actor himself. Rockwell’s “bad” agent is a laughable stereotype, a limousine liberal that’s no more complexly conniving than Wile E. Coyote; likewise an odd, one-note villain, studio exec Agnes (Felicity Huffman) advises Howard that he should stop worrying about trying to “pull Lydia out from under her horny dada,” all before shouting to an eavesdropping, elderly hotel guest to “sleep in hell you wrinkly fuck.” If this is satire, or if this is even comedy, the joke has been lost in cheap-trick characters spouting sub-dime-store-novel threats and claims.
All of this would be tasteless enough as is, but a third-act plot point involving Lydia being molested or even raped (the film keeps the specifics unclear) by her caricature-of-a-hillbilly father (Paul Sparks) causes Trust Me to become truly risible, particularly because Gregg treats the reveal with the subtlety of a slasher flick jump-scare, as Howard’s peering eyes are accompanied by shrill, ambient noises on the soundtrack. That Trust Me then proceeds to use the matter as a means to fulfill the opening flash-forward, even suggesting the duration of the film as some sort of fantasy given a final bit of magical realism, only cements the broad and flagrantly misguided ethos of Gregg’s hollow critical queries.