By the time Trust the Man opens this weekend, it will have been nearly a year since it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was picked up for distribution by Fox Searchlight. Forget that it's a year old; this thing tastes a good decade past its expiration date. Bart Freundlich (The Myth of Fingerprints, Catch That Kid) writes with a sitcom ear; the actors deliver their lines as though they're waiting for the laugh track to catch its breath. And he directs with a television eye; he doesn't care where he aims the camera, as long as at least one of his leads is somewhere in the picture.
All that would be forgotten if Freundlich brought a whiff of originality and a smidgen of heart to the proceedings, but his is a romantic comedy sans romance and bereft of comedy. To the discussion of relationships and how they go stale and suffer, he adds nothing but smartass echoes and soggy plaints -- the wanh-wanhs of the fortysomething who isn't getting enough tail off the missus, which is the very stuff of prime-time reruns. And the people who populate his movies are archetypes at best and cutouts at worst -- the sarcastic, selfish, and vacuous who fill Hollywood movies with their wearying behavior.
David Duchovny and Julianne Moore (she's married to Freundlich, so at least she has an out) are Tom and Rebecca, a married couple on the downside of their vows. He's a former ad man who's switched to being a stay-at-home daddy, a gig of which he's not so fond. She's a movie actress, stooping to conquer the Lincoln Center stage, and she's lost all sexual interest in Tom, to the point where she flinches if he touches her. How has it gotten this way? No idea. The filmmaker never goes deeper than a scene with their therapist (Garry Shandling), in which he advises them to try it "doggy-style."
Why Tom quit to stay home is never really addressed. In the end, it seems to be so that he can stay home and jerk off to internet porn and, later, bump into the hottest mother in the history of MILFs (Dagmara Dominczyk) and begin the affair that teaches him a few meaningful guilty lessons about how he can't live without Rebecca, blah blah blah.
Rebecca and Tom's problems aren't enough for the movie; they're mirrored by Rebecca's brother, Tobey (Billy Crudup), a remote-control slacker locked in a seven-year go-nowhere relationship with Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an aspiring children's-book writer with low self-esteem. Of course, they too have sex issues -- and can't stop talking to each other about them, the men and women pairing off to make glib, high-speed chitchat about how they want it, need it, can't get enough, don't give enough, and on and on. Gyllenhaal especially is given such a thankless role that she actually looks like a bad actress, which is a rare, embarrassing thing.
None of this is intended to discount the issues these people have; theirs is the familiar catalog of the mundane and nasty trivialities that slowly undo lives and relationships. But Freundlich has nothing to say and nowhere to go with this material, except to the most contrived ending this side of a Will & Grace episode. His characters don't mean anything, because they don't say anything or do anything that feels rooted in the nitty-gritty of the everyday. They're stock schmucks and little more -- unlikable twerps who don't earn or deserve their happily-ever-afters.