Until someone truly reinvents the stagnant romantic-comedy genre, trifles like Bart Freundlich’s Trust the Man will have to suffice, and fortunately the Myth of Fingerprints director’s look at fidelity and responsibility at least manages to wring a few genuine moments and assured performances from its formulaic portrait of immature men learning to act their age in order to salvage relationships. A parallel study of love in crisis, Freundlich’s story focuses on the trials and tribulations suffered by actress Rebecca (Julianne Moore) and her ad exec-turned-homemaker hubby Tom (David Duchovny), and Rebecca’s death-obsessed sportswriter brother Tobey (Billy Crudup) and his children’s book author girlfriend Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal).
Both couples are stuck in a rut, with Tom craving sex from his disinterested wife and Elaine desperate to settle down and have kids with her slacker beau. Neither are highly original dilemmas, and yet the director’s Woody Allen-ish familiarity with his affluent Manhattan milieu and occasionally astute depiction of how minor squabbles often mask larger problems (such as a spot-on rant by Tobey about Elaine’s ineptness when it comes to TV remotes) gives his scenarios a touch of warmth and insightfulness. That the stupid boys will screw up royally and then be forced to perform an über-romantic climactic act to win back their nearest and dearests’ hearts is never in question, but to some extent the story’s familiarity works in the film’s favor, as it allows one to focus attention not on its contrived serio-comic plot developments but, rather, on its quartet of fine performances.
And though its sympathies clearly lie with Moore and Gyllenhaal’s sophisticated, strong, and thoroughly frustrated females, Trust the Man is ultimately a showcase for its male leads, with Crudup executing a nice tightrope act between charming and irritating doofus-ness, and Duchovny imbuing his porn-loving Tom—a man hiding his fears and disappointments underneath a façade of jokey sarcasm—with so much flippant silliness that, at times, the actor seems like he’s willfully attempting to undermine the film’s realism by treating his role like one big excuse to goof off.