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Trust the Man

Little Men

Two facts about love and relationships have inspired romantic comedies for decades. The first is that love is mysterious. The second is that it takes work to make a relationship last. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to weave these themes into an entertaining night at the movies. Even so, Trust the Man crashes and burns not long after takeoff.

The story would seem to offer promise. A successful actress, Rebecca (Julianne Moore), and her adman-turned-house husband, Tom (David Duchovny), have opposing views on what makes an adequate sex life, even two children later. Meanwhile, her perennially adolescent layabout of a younger brother, Tobey (Billy Crudup), and his aspiring children's author girlfriend, Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal), are at odds because he's indifferent to thoughts of marriage -- let alone having kids -- even eight years into their relationship.

Throw in a baffled marriage counselor (Garry Shandling), a depressed and ineffectual therapist (Bob Balaban), a publishing executive (Ellen Barkin) with the hots for Elaine, two women (Eva Mendes and Dagmara Dominczyk) whose good looks and bubbly personalities divert our heroes' attention from their primary relationships, and an impulsive musician (James Le Gros) whom Rebecca half-jokingly pairs off with Elaine, and you might think that Trust the Man would be a sure-fire hit where colorful characters bumble through various relationships in search of a greater truth. Except for Duchovny, who seems as boring as ever, the cast is good enough to pull it off.

Unfortunately, writer/director Bart Freundlich is not. Although clearly inspired by such successful films as Love Actually and Notting Hill, not to mention "Sex and the City," he misses the mark. The writing simply pales in comparison.

The couples have no compelling reason to stay together, so when the melodramatic ending reaches its inevitable, ridiculous climax -- in which everything is supposedly made clear -- the film becomes a parody of itself.

Many scenes contribute little to the story. Tobey sees a shrink, Tom attends a Sex Addicts Anonymous group, and Elaine finally finishes writing her book. They're mildly enjoyable as individual one-acts, but they seem patched together from late-night brainstorming sessions that were intended to save the script.

Worse are the inept touches at humor, such as a humorless European boyfriend character whose accent is inexplicably, amateurishly fake, wavering somewhere between German and French.

As Freundlich writes in his blog, which is linked to from the film's official website: "I really hope we can get the men in to see this movie because so much of it is told from a male perspective on relationships. In my mind it started out as a romantic comedy for men... something you rarely see because romantic comedy sounds soft and girly... but this is not... It's about the real fundamental differences men and women have that makes a long-term relationship a struggle."

Too bad he did such a lousy job conveying that struggle. It's a strategic mistake on his part to make the men such losers and the women such successes at what they do. The men's search for meaning in their relationships ultimately becomes confused with their search for a purpose in their post-adolescent lives.

After watching Trust the Man, you'll wish you'd seen the film the director claims he made.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars