Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 17, 2014)
Best-known for his portrayal of Agent Coulson in the Marvel movies and Agents of SHIELD, Clark Gregg goes triple threat on us as lead actor, writer and director of 2013’s Trust Me. A former child star, Howard Holloway (Gregg) finds it tough to get ahead as an agent for child performers, as his lack of killer instinct interferes with his ability to thrive in a cutthroat business.
As he loses one client, Howard manages to get a break when he encounters 13-year-old Lydia (Saxon Sharbino). She possesses the acting talent to take Howard’s career to another level – if he can deal with all the complications that come along for the ride.
When actors hop into the director’s chair, they tend to bring their famous pals with them. Despite the film’s low budget, Gregg recruits a bunch of well-known actors for Trust Me, so we get folks like Amanda Peet, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman and Molly Shannon. That’s pretty remarkable for a movie that I suspect came with a minimal budget.
A project like this threatens to turn into vanity project, and Trust Me occasionally shows signs of that. I get the feeling Gregg felt like he needed to write and direct to land a leading role for himself; while he’s appeared in many high-profile movies, he’s never been able to rise above “supporting character” status in those.
Does Trust Me seem likely to change minds and turn Gregg into a leading man? No, and he struggles to hold his own at the center of the film. Some actors have the ability to take control of a story and some don’t.
Based on the evidence here, Gregg feels like someone best suited to the supporting roles that have served him well across his career. Gregg does okay in the lead part, but he always feels a little lost and can’t serve the character as well as he should.
It doesn’t help that Trust Me can’t quite decide where it wants to go. It dallies with comedy/parody, romance, drama and even a little film noir. While some movies can pull off these ambitions, Trust Me can’t; it flits around so much that its lack of focus seems likely to alienate the viewer.
The changes in tone certainly put off this viewer, and these get worse as the movie progresses. At its heart, Trust Me fares best when it tries to be a less broad version of Bowfinger. If Gregg gave us a light and fun take on the life of the Hollywood agent, the movie could prosper; when he engages in those moments, he provides his best acting and the film thrives.
However, Gregg shoots for something deeper as the tale goes along, and he misfires. The more serious he tries to make the film, the less enjoyable it becomes, and this culminates in a wholly unsatisfying – and borderline absurd - finale.
These flaws make Trust Me a disappointment in the end. It keeps us entertained for a while, but the harder it attempts to become serious and meaningful, the less pleasing it becomes.
Footnote: is it a coincidence that so much of this film’s cast also appeared in 2013’s low-budget comedy/drama The Way Way Back? Perhaps, but we sure do find a lot of “repeat offenders” here, as Amanda Peet, Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney all played significant roles in both films.