To review the story of Trust Me without addressing the ending is to overlook perhaps the most glaring issue in the entire film, so buckle up for some spoilers.
I’ve been watching a lot of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and while I’m a fan of Clark Gregg, I wasn’t sure what he was capable of outside the Marvel sphere, or if he’d be able to get inside another character persona well enough to make me forget he spends most of his screen time as Agent Coulson. Taking the roles of writer, director, and lead actor on Trust Me, I thought this would be a good indication. For the most part, it went well.
We start out seeing down-on-his-luck Hollywood agent Howard (Gregg) getting fired by his only noteworthy client for over-negotiating a deal and seeing it fall apart right before his eyes. In the same window of time, he stumbles heroically into Lydia’s (Saxon Sharbino) dramatic audition and inadvertently ends up getting hired as her agent. Lydia views Howard as the decent, respectable alternative to scumbag agents who milk talent for whatever they can get out of it without ever considering the best interests of the star, scumbags like Howard’s main competitor Aldo (played to slimy precision by Sam Rockwell — oh god, that scarf), who has lured away more than a few of Howard’s clients.
Lydia’s working relationship with Howard is constantly being meddled with by her overprotective father Ray (Paul Sparks). Just as Howard is starting to seriously question the nature of their father-daughter dynamic — having experienced first-hand Ray’s obvious alcoholic tendencies and penchant for aggression — he happens to catch a glimpse of what appears to be a sexually abusive post-encounter between Ray and Lydia. Howard, being the good guy who follows what’s right over what’s profitable, can’t let this slide, steals Lydia away, and gets the authorities involved. Meanwhile, he’s got a budding relationship brewing on the side with his reluctant neighbor Marcy (Amanda Peet) that helps keep him grounded and on the right path.
The court proceedings for the sexual-abuse charges cause Lydia to sacrifice the big three-movie franchise contract she just landed, but she sticks by Howard and Marcy and all the goodness and decency that they stand for. She wants to fix what’s wrong with her life, and it seems only he can help her do it.
Up to this point, Howard has made it abundantly clear multiple times what a good guy he is, and the audience is rooting for him to get his big break in spite of himself, not unlike Tom Cruise’s title character in Jerry Maguire. Doing the right thing has to pay off in the end, right? Even Lydia turned down a solid gold deal with Aldo to stick with Howard because he’s such a great, honest, stand-up guy.
This is where the biggest spoilers hit, so if you need to look away, now would be the time. It’s a pretty enjoyable movie up to this point, and has you rooting for the good guys and against the bad guys as they’ve been defined up to this point.
While it’s true that Howard was Lydia’s key to sloughing off her irksome father and getting into showbiz, it wasn’t by working with him and seeing him as a role model, but rather by manipulating and lying to him to get him to do her dirty work for her and slip away scott free. The abuse did happen, but it wasn’t by her father. He got her away from the actual abuse and was being overprotective as a result, but she knew he’d blow any good deal she got in front of her by playing the “Father Knows Best” card every time and seeing her success as the solution to his own financial troubles. The only way to get him out of her hair was to spin up this lie about sexual abuse and get emancipated from him (she’s only 13, and in an abuse case, he’d have no choice but to concede letting her go), then find someone to back her up as a witness. Having met with Aldo once before, Lydia knew he would never go to bat for her and would look the other way to whatever she was going through. Howard would, though, but defending her would mean losing the big franchise movie contract. That ended up being fine for Lydia, as she somehow worked out a deal with Aldo on the side to still do the movie through him and dump Howard. This burns Howard’s bridges with many of his contacts in the industry by creating the appearance of him trying to wreck a picture over personal issues, kills his relationship with Lydia as she not only completely lied to him but then signed on with Howard’s nemesis, and just when things can’t get any worse, Lydia’s dad shows up, steals a policeman’s pistol, and fires an errant shot that grazes Lydia’s neck, but somehow also managed to hit Howard in the chest (the positioning and timing of the characters in this scene defies all logic). He dies moments later, in an awkward sequence reminiscent of a scene earlier where Lydia sprouts wings as she becomes some special vampire for her upcoming role. Roll credits.
The ending is not just a downer, but it is completely unrewarding for the audience. Howard’s high point is somewhere in the middle of the movie, then he just gets kicked again and again and again from there on. The plot was generally well conceived and didn’t leave any glaring holes, but the last few minutes pull a fast one on the viewer, giving them hope that doing the right thing is going to pay off in the end, then yank the rug out from under them. It sucks, too, because I was really enjoying the movie up until the problematic finale. There’s no clear good to come of it — Howard is denied his comeback glory, Marcy ends up heartbroken and alone, Lydia gains no obvious redemption, Aldo is still a big schmuck, Ray is still a well-intended wrecking ball, and any sense of believability or relatability is swept away on those atrocious pink vampire/angel wings.
I don’t understand the saddling of an otherwise good movie with a confusing and disappointing finale. Maybe it was to elevate it from good but unremarkable to frustratingly memorable. Hopefully Gregg aims for a more consistent message with his next writer/director outing, because there’s so much right about this flick that I desperately wanted to give it a hearty recommendation. As it is, it’s 50/50 — some may enjoy the bait-and-switch ending for trying something different, while others may feel cheated by it.
Trust Me is currently available On Demand and iTunes, and opens in theaters June 6, 2014.