For his romantic roundelay Trust the Man,
a New York-set movie very much in the vein of Woody Allen, Edward Burns
and early David O. Russell (see review here), writer-director Bart Freundlich did his
best myna bird impression — “gathering stuff from my life that I
thought was funny, about the way you relate to your wife and kids, or
conversations with friends about the ways that they relate to those
topics,” he explains by phone — and then shaping and pruning them down,
grinding them up against the age-old pressures of temptation and fear
A smart, sophisticated comedy about the challenges of love and marriage amongst modern day New Yorkers, Freundlich’s fourth feature film centers on the romantic escapades of two couples: a successful actress (Freundlich’s real-life significant other, Julianne Moore) and her stay-at-home husband (David Duchovny), and said actress’ slacker younger brother (Billy Crudup) and his aspiring novelist girlfriend (Maggie Gyllenhaal).
The movie follows this flawed quartet on their pointed and surprising
searches for love in the midst of careers, family, infidelity and the
ever-daunting search for Manhattan street parking. Freundlich (above
right, with Duchovny) took some time to chat in advance of his movie’s
release, and the conversation is excerpted below.
Brent Simon: So I’m going to go with the opening question you’ve probably gotten least regarding the movie. Is a fart really
better than a poop? [This from an exchange that opens the film
between Duchovny’s character and his toilet-training tyke, played by
Moore and Freundlich’s real-life son.]
Bart Freundlich: (laughs) Sometimes. I think that’s the nice
thing about having kids — that you totally tell them the truth when it
comes to bodily functions. That was a verbatim conversation I had with
my son. I actually wrote that down in my notebook that day, and he was
wearing an Incredible Hulk T-shirt while sitting there, straining. I
really wanted to use that in the movie but we couldn’t get the rights.
BS: Is Trust the Man an externalized reflection of the inwardly reflected angst we see on display in World Traveler?
BF: That’s interesting. I definitely think it’s the same
angst, but it focuses on people who’ve made different decisions, and
it’s like an exploration of a different part of the body. It’s a
totally different lens that I was looking through. One is lyrical and
sort of poetic, I guess, almost fragmented to the point where it’s more
experiential. And this one was so much more literal. I really wanted to
try… to write a comedy, because I find that that’s so much a part of my
life — just joking around with my friends and making my wife and kids
laugh. And they really pushed me to do that, but for a while I felt
like it wasn’t important enough to spend so much time on. When I
started to do it, of course all of the same themes that I’d written
about in World Traveler came in… that of family and having a
kid and being a father and being a good husband. I think it was maybe a
reaction a little bit against World Traveler, because that
movie really hurt me because I put so much of myself into it and loved
it and it basically didn’t happen. It got such a small release that
people didn’t know about it.
BS: Well, that’s interesting. I was going to try to artfully
tiptoe around the question, but I’m glad you brought it up because I
felt like this movie was in many ways a reaction to the commercial
reception of World Traveler.
BF: Oh yeah, it definitely is, within the boundaries of
wanting to try to write a comedy. There was no question I was thinking
more about how an audience would react to this movie than World Traveler.
That movie was a pure labor of love, an expression of something that I
thought was interesting and deep. And in a weird way, I felt like World Traveler was kind of a reaction to The Myth of Fingerprints, where all the things that people were responding to in that movie were the most traditional things, like The Big Chill
aspect of it. And I was kind of angry about how that had been
distributed, so I was like, ‘Fuck all of you, I’m going to make a movie
that says fuck you!’ So I don’t know where that leaves me next. I guess
it depends on how this movie does. (laughs) But with this, I wanted to
do something that was more accessible. I didn’t know how successful or
unsuccessful it might be, but I wanted to put my own spin on it so that
it would fit into a genre but still feel idiosyncratic. It’s not really
based around a plot, sort of like those old Woody Allen movies where
you can’t really say what the plot is. It’s just people living in their
relationships in Manhattan, and it makes the marketing people at Fox
crazy, of course. They saw it in a 1,800-seat theater (at the Toronto
Film Festival), where it killed, it was fantastic. And then they start
getting into it and saying, ‘Shit, how do we market this?’ Because I
think the right way to really market this movie, which is not
happening, is to say that this is a romantic comedy for men. Or, we had
a tagline that I thought was fantastic, but they couldn’t use, which
was: ‘Women are from Mars, men have a penis.’ Because I think there’s an edge, and it’s also saying what the movie is.
BS: Was that another rights issue?
BF: No, it’s not even that. It’s an MPAA issue. You can’t put
it on the poster. I think this is something a little edgier… you know,
there are those independent films like Little Miss Sunshine or Sideways or Laurel Canyon that are really enjoyable, but also easy to watch. It’s not like watching The Limey
or something, where the form exceeds the story. Smaller, very
accessible films with a little more leeway to do interesting things —
that’s where I feel like this [film] kind of fits. But it will be
interesting trying to get people to see it.
BS: I wanted to ask you about casting David Duchovny, who to me is an untapped resource as a comedic actor.
BF: I agree with you 100 percent. If you’ve seen it, it’s the The Larry Sanders Show.
And when I got to know David and it was clear that his dry sense of
humor is one of his best characteristics. And it’s always nice when you
find an actor who has had part of their strength under-exploited. It’s
like finding a new oil well or something. And that’s what I felt about
my entire cast, actually. You have Julie and Billy and Maggie, who are
not typically comedic actors, but are so devoted to making things real
that I felt like lending that to this movie would give it an original
spin. And then David — who plays, in a weird way, the lead of the movie
— he just has this leading man quality with this really great,
BS: Titles are quite important for me. When did you seize upon the moniker for this one?
BF: I actually had the title from the beginning. When I
started taking notes, one of the things I heard a lot on the streets of
New York was people saying, ‘Trust the man, ya gotta trust the man,’
referring to the big man, or whatever you believe God to be. It was
another way of saying, ‘Hey, life will take care of itself.’ And I felt
that this story was from such a male perspective that I liked the
double meaning of it, that women are learning how to trust their men,
because no matter how circuitous a route it is, they will eventually
come around to deserving that trust. But also, on a bigger level, it
felt like that quote about life will hold you in its hands, if you just
trust it and keep working down that path.
BS: That’s interesting, because for me it echoed in those two
ways but another way too — namely that the male protagonists in it have
to learn to surrender to their nervousness and angst, to recognize that
relationship trepidation is an inherent part of man’s nature, but not
ultimately what leads or governs him.
I wasn’t able to ever articulate that, but the fact that it’s ‘trust’
and ‘man’ seemed like two important words. They played around with
trying to have me change the title, because it doesn’t scream out what
the film is about… but for me it had become the name of the movie. In
fact, when we tested it, 30 out of 35 people said they didn’t like the
title, which was a tough one for me. And then I said, ‘Well tell me
what a better title is. I’m not calling it Love in New York or anything like that.’ It’s a little elusive but I think it sounds good.
BS: Echoing back to the Allen films you mentioned, how important was it for Trust the Man to be shot in New York?
BF: It 100 percent had to shot in New York. I felt like I
needed to know the location I was shooting in inside and out in order
to make it feel as real as possible. I didn’t want it to scream out the
New York that you know from all the other movies, but I wanted the
Village to feel like a village. There were 62 locations, and so many of
them were restaurants that Julie and I or Billy and I go to all the
time. And I like the personal aspect of that, the geography of it I had
to keep straight.
BS: So, because this is for the Internet, I’m obliged to ask
you about something sexy and/or forward-looking, like your next
BF: I just finished writing a comedy that I’m going to make
with Téa Leoni, and I’m looking for the money right now, so if anyone
has any please send it along. (laughs) I’ve really wanted to work with
Téa for a long time. Her comic timing is impeccable, and this thing I
think will be a great role for her. She really wants to do it, so we
have to get it together, and I think we will. There’s a lot of physical
comedy in there for her, I can’t wait to do it.
BS: How none of her sitcoms ever caught on I’ll never know.
BF: That’s so true. This is a little bit more of a
traditional romantic comedy. She plays a 40-year-old suburban housewife
who had a great education but gave up her job when she got married, but
then ends up divorcing her husband, moving to the city and hiring a
24-year-old “manny,” who she then has a relationship with. But again,
like Trust the Man, so much of it is not about plot but these characters and who they are, and what not.