Trust Dir. David Schwimmer

[Millenium Entertainment; 2011]

Styles: family drama
Others: Doubt, Reservation Road

When a movie is based on a play, the story tends to dwell on a topical issue or a dinner party that goes painfully wrong. While a Halloween meal gets ruined late into Trust, it’s definitely an “issue” flick, with director/co-writer David Schwimmer (Friends) forcing the audience to ponder internet child predators and the families scarred by them. While it’s impressive that Schwimmer the TV star’s direction lacks the mechanic, static quality associated with graduates of the medium, Schwimmer the theater nut fails to transcend the thin, familiar material: Trust is an earnest account of one family’s trauma, and little else.

With onscreen parents Will (Clive Owen) and Lynn Cameron (Catherine Keener) nothing but warm and loving toward their warm, loving family, Schwimmer’s free to focus his attention on how a middle-aged creep was able to get their warm, loving 15-year-old daughter Annie (Liana Liberato) in bed. The film is both graphic and coy about this: countless banal IM flirtations scroll across the screen, but we’re kept from hearing the increasingly intimate phone calls that follow. Thanks to this secrecy, we’re forced to take on faith this man’s continued seductiveness as he morphs from a high schooler states away, to a 20 year old, to a grad student, and finally to a puffy Eric Stoltz lookalike smiling at her in the mall. Once the pair finally meet, Schwimmer leaves us with them for an excruciating amount of time, only turning away from the mystery man’s cajoling and mind games when things turn graphic (though not before 15-year-old Liberato poses in her underwear). Schwimmer clearly wants to provide an unflinching account of how these horrors happen, but he lacks the gifts to evoke why teenagers can ignore obvious warning signs. References to culture’s sexualization of adolescence and the need for acceptance only serve as the most facile of explication.

The cast is solid, with Owen able to convey bemused affection and brutal heartbreak without saying a word. But the script drags him through a series of post-traumatic Dad-stress clichés, including public fits of rage and frenzied hallucinations, while Keener has little to do but console the girl and roll her eyes at Owen (it’s almost surprising she doesn’t call out how stereotypical his meltdown is). Viola Davis wisely plays the girl’s therapist as a dedicated professional rather than an open-hearted messiah, and the climax is affecting even if Schwimmer slips the film’s title into Owen’s speech à la Doubt and so many other theatrical adaptations. But a queasy coda ignores the film’s alleged message — that we can help each other overcome pain more easily than we can keep ourselves from experiencing it — to put the attention back on those tech-savvy serial statutory rapists. It’s only the most egregious example of Trust undercutting good intentions with trite drama.

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