F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said there were no second acts in American lives. Clark Gregg's film “Trust Me” shows just how few people like to listen to F. Scott Fitzgerals.
We first meet Clark Gregg's Howard, a Hollywood agent with a busted cellphone and messy car, as he's running late. We'll soon learn that he's been in a state of perpetual catch-up for thirty years. That's how long it's been since he himself was a hot commodity, a child actor whose career fizzled out before it could really grow wings.
Howard has focused his understanding of the pitfalls of juvenile acting by focusing exclusively on kid clients. A bottom feeder? Well, perhaps, but compared to the big time rock star kid agent played by Sam Rockwell, Howard is a veritable Mahatma Gandhi.
Gandhi's name comes up a few times in “Trust Me” when Howard's newest client, Lydia (Saxon Sharbino) lands the lead role opposite Sir Ben Kingsley in Ang Lee's adaptation of the hottest would-be franchise young adult books. Lydia is a precocious and insightful young woman on the verge of 14 and well aware of what could come her way if she plays her cards right. Despite the misgivings of her loser father whose wardrobe screams “flyover,” she sticks to Howard like glue because she recognizes that he is a good man, one who will protect her, and one who really needs a break.
The bulk of “Trust Me” is a very fun inside-baseball look at how deals are made in Hollywood. (Or, at least, how deals are made in movies about Hollywood.) Alison Janney plays an associate of a major producer and she talks fast, so how in this could, in any way, be bad? There are also some benign digs at the culture's obsession with franchise films, particularly amusing when an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. is talking about T-shirts and action figures. As the film moves to its second half there are a number of twists that shed some light on both Howard and Lydia's darker past. While some of the story mechanics are a little clunky, by and large the film keeps you in its grip.
Front and center are the performances. Clark Gregg, better known to us all as Agent Phil Coulson from the Marvel films, is fantastic. He's a little bit of a Hollywood doofus at times, but still tremendously sympathetic. His inchoate romantic relationship with his neighbor (Amanda Peet) is 100% charming. I hereby vow to see any film in which Gregg plays a romantic lead, even if Garry Marshall is directing.
Also top notch is Saxon Sharbino, and this is a tough role because we need to buy her as a 14 year old girl who is above it all, but also a 14 year old girl in pain PLUS she has to be a “good actress” in the scenes in which she's acting. She nails it, and we quickly grow to care deeply for the relationship she and Howard form.
Unfortunately, the ending of “Trust Me” kinda falls apart. I'm not just saying that I don't like the revelations of the final scenes - the ending of the movie “works” inasmuch as by now “Trust Me” has painted itself into a corner and this solution is the only one left. What is a problem is just how clumsy this final reel is. There are some moments of blurted-out, highly convenient story beats that resemble Poochie rocketing to the sky with “I have to go now, my planet needs me.” (There's also a character who was clearly more prominent in earlier cuts of the movie, but had her role trimmed to the point that audience members might be forgiven for asking “where the hell did she come from?”)
With “Trust Me” following Gregg's 2008 Sam Rockwell vehicle “Choke,” I don't know if I quite have a bead on him as a filmmaker. While “Trust Me” ultimately works better than his earlier film, it doesn't have too much in the way of pop or polish. It is a small movie, but when it focuses tightly on the characters there are some quite exciting moments to be found.
SCORE: 7.5 / 10