Two New York couples work through their issues in Bart Freundlich's bizarrely off-key "Trust the Man," which stars Julianne Moore as a famous actress named Rebecca, whose husband, Tom (David Duchovny), a former copywriter turned porn-obsessed house-husband, cheats on her with a vamp from his mommy group. Tom is best friends with Rebecca's brother Tobey (Billy Crudup), who is having trouble committing to her pal Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal) after seven years of cohabitation. Elaine wants a baby, Tobey wants to be a baby. So you see the problems.
Therapy could help, but Rebecca and Tom's counselor (Garry Shandling in a turtleneck and a single-scene part) appears to lean toward the aroma variety, and anyway they visit him only once a year, mostly so they can make cute jokes about that. Tobey, meanwhile, fixates on his car, his parking space and his newly married but still-interested ex-girlfriend (Eva Mendes), in that order. Eventually, Elaine gets sick of waiting around for him and hooks up with an amusing Eastern European who wears turtlenecks and talks funny.
Underlying this teetering pile of complications is an upscale urban fantasy, set in an exquisitely curated Manhattan. The movie theater is playing "Funny Ha Ha" and "Kings and Queen." The bakery is Magnolia. The restaurant is Da Silvano. When Tom agrees to accompany the sexy divorced mommy (you know she's both by the way her lips recall a beached trout at all times) on an ice cream date with the kids, they take their scoops at Serendipity. Even an incidental street lunatic comes across as a colorful accessory. Watching "Trust the Man" is like walking around a gentrified neighborhood, taking in the heavily branded authenticity designed to reference what used to be there and becoming very confused.
For about the first two-thirds, the movie drifts aimlessly from gag to gag, as its characters lunch, shop, host highly improbable dinner parties where Tom and Tobey get to make fun of the gay and foreign guests (which is cool, because everybody knows how pretentious gay and foreign people can be, especially in New York, especially when one's wife is a world-renowned thespian) and otherwise putter around the city wrapped in a flattering mist of self-absorption.
Then out of nowhere the whole thing takes a flying leap into romantic-comedy land, culminating in a ludicrous scene at Lincoln Center. It wouldn't be a romantic comedy, don't you know, if the ladies weren't won back in the most antic and public manner possible or if there weren't a large audience on hand to applaud the heedless lovers. Sure, it's hard to imagine this particular theater-going crowd cooing sympathetically at this sort of romantic extroversion, but by then you'll have long since stopped expecting internal logic.
The actors gamely keep up their spirits, but the male characters are too one-dimensional and the female characters too bizarrely divorced from reality to be at all engaging. Elaine's romantic ingenuousness knows no bounds. Not only does she let Tobey talk her into submitting her children's book manuscript with a snapshot of herself in a bikini, she can't connect one dot with another when interest is quickly expressed. At one point, Rebecca decides to set up Elaine with an old boyfriend of hers, a cheeseball folk singer-minister perfectly captured by James LeGros, who nails the urban outdoorsy horny spiritual leader type (you know you know one). But rather than pick him apart, Freundlich has the girls take him at face value. They giggle and make isn't-he-great faces at each other as he bows in Elaine's direction and generally makes a highly amusing fool of himself. When she chides herself for not bowing back, though, it's all you can do to keep from falling over.
`Trust the Man'
MPAA rating: R
Times guidelines: Contains strong language and some sexual situations
A Fox Searchlight and Sydney Kimmel Entertainment release. A Process production. Written and directed by Bart Freundlich. Produced by Tim Perrell, Bart Freundlich and Sydney Kimmel. Director of photography Tim Orr. Editor John Gilroy, A.C.E. Music by Clint Mansell. Running time: 103 minutes. In wide release.