Running time: 90 minutes
Stars: Clark Gregg, Felicity Huffman, Allison Janney, William H. Macy, Amanda Peet, Sam Rockwell, Saxon Sharbino
Director: Clark Gregg
Many filmgoers will recognize the appealing character actor Clark Gregg, who played Agent Phil Coulson in The Avengers in 2012. The new film Trust Me, Greg's second stab at writing/directing (after Choke in 2008), confirms that he should probably stick with the work he knows best. Though Gregg has assembled an impressive ensemble cast — both Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney starred in the brilliant comedy The Way Way Back — his script is cynical and meandering, and the only character he gives enough to chew on is his own.
That would be Howard Holloway, a child actor-turned-child actors' agent. Holloway's tendency to speak before thinking has brought him a string of bad luck, and now he's on the verge of losing an up-and-coming starlet to a rival agent, Aldo (Rockwell).
Lydia, the 13-year-old ingenue (played by newbie Saxon Sharbino), has a chance to star in a trio of Twilight-style films directed by Ang Lee, and it's a bit mystifying when she agrees to sign with Holloway. He steps in as her earnest protector, simultaneously shining a light on the nasty and ruthless business of Hollywood, embodied in Meg (Janney) and Agnes (Felicity Huffman, Oscar-nominated for Transamerica) as the project's casting agent and producer.
Why do Aldo, Meg and Agnes hate Holloway with such a passion? We never really find out. And Sharbino doesn't convey the mix of naïveté and ambition that a child star possesses, though you can probably blame that on the script, not her performance. A subplot involving a burgeoning romance between Holloway and his neighbor Marcy (Amanda Peet, who was also — must be a trend — in The Way Way Back) is harmless enough, but it's annoying to see the talented William H. Macy (Fargo) so underutilized in a tiny role as Marcy's boss at a car dealership.
Most objectionable, Trust Me tumbles over a cliff in its final 30 minutes as the story dives into matters of incest and abuse. Sharp comedy is one thing. The scuzzy darkness of Trust Me makes you wonder what sort of anger issues director Gregg is working through about the business he's in.
Is there a lesson here? Yes: A good cast alone does not a good movie make. (It's the material, stupid.) Next time around, Mr. Gregg, please consider calling in Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the brilliant writers of — here's that pattern again — The Way Way Back.
Meg Grant is West Coast Editor of AARP The Magazine.