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Friday, September 1, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Trust the Man": There's humor and truth in portrait of relationships

Special to The Seattle Times

Who's more restless and unhappy: people who yearn to be married and have kids, or people who are married and have kids but miss their former lives?

Marriage is the dividing line between two long-term but dispirited relationships in "Trust the Man," a sporadically funny and somewhat insightful romantic comedy written and directed by Bart Freundlich ("World Traveler").

Freundlich's real-life wife and mother of his two children, Julianne Moore, plays Rebecca, an esteemed, New York-based actress about to star in a new Broadway play. Rebecca's husband, Tom (David Duchovny), has been a success in the advertising business. The fact that Rebecca is busy with a new show, however, and that their two young kids need a stay-at-home parent, has given Tom an excuse to exit a profession that left him dissatisfied creatively.

As with many dads who become househusbands, Tom struggles with the change. He feels useless and unnoticed, while Rebecca feels stretched thin and too much in demand sexually. Tom resorts to pornography and yields to the attentions of a single mom (Dagmara Dominczyk), while Rebecca lets a puppyish young actor (Justin Bartha) fawn, mostly harmlessly, over her.

Movie review 2.5 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Trust the Man," with Julianne Moore, David Duchovny, Billy Crudup, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Eva Mendes, Dagmara Dominczyk, James LeGros, Garry Shandling, Bob Balaban, Justin Bartha, Ellen Barkin. 103 minutes. Written and directed by Bart Freundlich. Rated R for language and sexual content. Several theaters.

Meanwhile, Rebecca's brother (and Tom's best friend), Tobey (Billy Crudup), finds his seven-year romance with aspiring author Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal) going downhill. No wonder: Elaine wants marriage and a family, and Tobey — a charming, Peter Pan type who writes magazine articles while sitting complacently in his old car — dodges the subject until she boots him out.

The film's title, "Trust the Man," doesn't refer to some sage, third party but rather the real man waiting to arise in each of the two male leads.

Freundlich is indeed harder on Tobey and Tom than their women, but he certainly doesn't believe that relationships, married or otherwise, are a no-win scenario. And much of what these characters are going through will be familiar to adults who understand how relationship politics can go awry over talk of marriage, adjustment to family life, etc.

There's an admirable bluntness to certain scenes that ring universally true, such as a cute opening in which an unshaven Tom is coaching his little boy, who sits on a toilet, about the best ways to relieve gas pain.

There's an everyday sweetness there that every dad will recognize. But with Rebecca sitting gorgeously in the next room, every dad will also recognize Tom's unspoken pain about discussing flatulence instead of seducing his wife.

The film strains somewhat for credibility as a sophisticated comedy. An ill-advised climax, set on opening night of Rebecca's play, overreaches for a 1930s screwball feel. But Freundlich's outstanding cast (including Garry Shandling, Eva Mendes, Ellen Barkin, Bob Balaban and James LeGros) — his best since 1997's "The Myth of Fingerprints" — glosses over miscalculations with sheer star power.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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