Trust Me: Tribeca Review

The showbiz yarn is highly entertaining until it all but derails.

Clark Gregg casts himself as an agent coping with the hazards presented by child actors.

NEW YORK — A comeback fairy tale that takes a hard left turn into Noirsville, Clark Gregg's Trust Me finds the writer/director playing a hapless agent for child actors who gets one last shot at signing a star. Hugely entertaining for much of its short running time before a third act that's problematic for various reasons, the film benefits from a top-notch cast and some sharp dialogue but will leave many viewers scratching their heads.

Gregg's Howard Holloway is a failed child actor who grew up and became a floundering child-actor agent. Stud earring in one ear, Bluetooth headset in the other, he's a loser who works out of a garage and doesn't recognize when playing hardball with an agent is going to get him beaned. His rival agent Aldo Shocklee (Sam Rockwell, firmly committed to his thinly-written villainy) poaches any client of Howard's who might take off, sending Howard into desperate tantrums even his pre-teen thespians find immature.

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After a particularly bad morning at the casting office, though, Howard gets a break: Not only does the neighbor he pines for (Amanda Peet) agree to go out with him, but he hits it off with a 13 year-old actress, Lydia (Saxon Sharbino), who calls him out of the blue asking for his help inking a three-picture deal starring in a fantasy franchise directed by Ang Lee.

Even if Gregg hadn't started the picture with a flash-forward of his character lying near death in an alleyway, we'd be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Howard is a decent man in his way, but clearly isn't meant for success, and every soft-focus vision he has of his high-powered future is a winking acknowledgement that it isn't meant to be.

But we expect Howard's failure to happen in a certain comedic context. The film's first fast-paced hour, which combines Bowfinger's loving mockery of marginal show business dreamers with the cynical producer-politics of State and Main, is full of laughs and sharply plotted -- particularly strong in scenes pitting Howard against a producer and casting director (Felicity Huffman and Allison Janney) who can hardly stand the thought of giving the guy a break.

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The reversals in the third act, though, suffer from hurried storytelling, unconvincing motivations, and shaky shifts in tone. Sharbino, so fine as a preternaturally savvy Oklahoma emigre intent on making it despite being saddled with an alcoholic, hotheaded father (Paul Sparks), is forced to transform her character on a dime, and events take a Shakespearean turn that few in the audience will find credible. The other shoe doesn't drop; it appears out of nowhere and shoves itself up the viewer's nostril. Even a man who probably should have left Tinseltown before his eighteenth birthday deserves better.

Production Company: Unified Pictures, Savage Bunny, Bron Studios

Cast: Clark Gregg, Saxon Sharbino, Amanda Peet, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, Felicity Huffman, Paul Sparks, William H. Macy

Director-Screenwriter: Clark Gregg

Producers: Keith Kjarval, Aaron L. Gilbert, Mary Vernieu, Clark Gregg, Raju Hariharan, Akshaii Hariharan, Brad Greiner

Executive producers: Raymond Brothers, Scott Glassgold, Payam Shohadai, John Raymonds, Ronald J. Giacose, Tara Moross, Randy Wayne, Jeff Rice, Sam Rockwell

Director of photography: Terry Stacey

Production designer: Stephen Altman         

Music: Mark Kilian

Costume designer: Rebecca Gregg

Editor: Kathryn Himoff

Sales: Rena Ronson, United Talent Agency

No rating, 88 minutes

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