Trust the Man (R), directed by Bart Freundlich, and Quinceañera (R), directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, both open Friday, September 1, at the Little Theatres. Man also opens Friday at Regal Henrietta 18.
Thanks to a cast toplined by respected thespians Julianne Moore, David Duchovny, Billy Crudup, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, it takes more than the usual amount of time to come to the realization that writer/director Bart Freundlich'sTrust the Man is in fact quite dreadful. If we're to believe Moore when she states that the film is a love letter to the West Village neighborhood that she and husband Freundlich call home, then one can only assume that it doubles as passive-aggressive hate mail to the self-absorbed jerks that live in it.
Supposedly a romantic comedy (though strangely devoid of either sentiment), Trust the Man focuses on a quartet of New Yorkers in romantic upheaval. Rebecca (Moore, Freedomland) is a successful actress with a sarcastic stay-at-home husband named Tom (Duchovny, House of D) who she claims is constantly pestering her for sex (the creepily wax-lipped Garry Shandling cameos as their therapist). Sportswriter Tobey (Crudup, Stage Beauty) is Rebecca's brother and Tom's best friend, and when he's not obsessing about death he's vexing longtime girlfriend Elaine (Gyllenhaal, World Trade Center) because she desperately wants him to grow up and impregnate her yesterday.
If this is your first experience with talkies, you'll be totally shocked by the plot trajectory (as well as the audible dialogue!). All four characters get offered options only slightly less palatable than whatever's waiting at home to nag them: Tom is tempted by the local barracuda, Eva Mendes tries to seduce Tobey, some fawning actor slobbers all over Rebecca, and Elaine dallies with a randomly European bore as well as a pompous musician (indie mainstay James LeGros, the highlight of this or any movie) whose skill at nibbling the watercress, as the French say, turns out to be exaggerated.
Cue fart jokes, multiple shots to the groin, a private argument that naturally everyone can hear, all followed by a denouement of monumentally selfish proportions during a play at LincolnCenter. Trust the Man was probably intended as Freundlich's crack at Woody Allen territory --- upper-middle-class New Yorkers dissecting their commitment issues --- but he barely reaches the Ed Burns echelon. His female characters are shrill harpies with truly valid concerns, while the men of the movie are overgrown children suffering from serious mental problems that are easily solved by a montage. This is Freundlich's third awful film, following the overrated Myth of Fingerprints and the little-seen World Traveler. Unfortunately, it's only his fourth filmmaking effort. Does the three-strike rule apply in Hollywood? Why not?
I've never been a big Julianne Moore fan (and I'm certainly in no danger of starting now), but Duchovny, Crudup, and Gyllenhaal are all such likeable actors that it's frustrating to see them hindered by the formulaic and vaguely insulting script. If there's an actual star of the Trust the Manit'sManhattan itself, elegantly shot by crackerjack cinematographer Tim Orr, who can typically be found infusing unlikely beauty into filmmaker David Gordon Green's ramshackle South. Orr is a long way from home. Too bad it wasn't worth the trip.
Magdalena is in preparations for her quinceañera, the traditional rite of passage that takes place on a young Latina's 15th birthday, but it's unclear for how long the ritual has called for a stretch Hummer. It's also not customary for the birthday girl to be a pregnant virgin, but that's what happens in Quinceañera, a clumsy drama written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, the men who brought you The Fluffer.
After the requisite shunning by her minister father, Magdalena (the appealing Emily Rios), goes to live with her kindly Uncle Tomas (ChaloGonzález, who made his film debut in Peckinpah'sThe Wild Bunch), a Yoda-like street vendor in the EchoPark neighborhood. Tomas has also taken in Magdalena's cousin Carlos (the wooden Jesse Garcia), rejected by his family because he's gay. Carlos gets entangled with their landlords, a gay couple with a taste for "super-hot cholo," while Magdalena tries to convince everyone of her virtue despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Quinceañera is also ostensibly a mash note to its architects' stomping grounds, but it smacks more of white liberal guilt than anything, seemingly apologizing for driving Latinos out of EchoPark as well as the gay community's objectifying of young Latino males. The film's heart is in the right place, though the execution is heavy-handed and the resolution is somehow both tidy and nonexistent. But Quinceañera won both the Dramatic Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival, so what do I know?