The newest movie by filmmaker Clark Gregg (aka The Avengers' Agent Coulson) delves into his surprisingly “ambiguous feelings” for the movie-making business—specifically the world of child actors and their agents. Playing one of those notorious agents himself, Gregg brings to life the down-on-his-luck Howard Holloway. Struggling to retain a single client while combating his highly successful archnemesis Aldo Shocklee (Sam Rockwell in a mercifully focused and comedic performance—unlike in A Case of You), Howard fears his days in the business are numbered.
In walks budding actress Lydia (Saxon Sharbino) who is a shoe-in for the lead in a new teen vampire trilogy. All she lacks is some representation—since her alcoholic father (Paul Sparks) can barely stay sober enough to take care of her. So Howard steps in and negotiates for her while taking on his own role in her life as a sober father figure. But when he catches a glimpse into the violence lurking in Lydia’s relationship with her father, Howard’s attempts to save her threaten her position in the movie franchise.
On the surface, Trust Me is a satirical comedy about the industry; but at its heart the film has the dramatic elements of a neo-noir. Howard’s quick industry banter with casting director Meg (Allison Janney) and his bald flirting with neighbor Marcy (Amanda Peet) give the film an easygoing, lighthearted vibe to ease you into the film. Then as Lydia’s secrets are unveiled and the sheer nasty viciousness of the studio—and industry in general—rise to the surface, we see just how dark this world really is. Howard faces some tough decisions and we have to trust he will make the right choice and not descend into this amoral underworld.
To drive home his theme of character metamorphosis, Gregg has littered the film with overwrought metaphors. From a CGI monarch butterfly that flutters across the screen at quiet personal moments for Howard (fitting into the film as almost-seamlessly as that CGI bird in Bluebird) to the highly imaginative evolutionary wings that the special vampire beings grow when they ascend to a higher life form, metamorphic imagery pervades the film. Gregg even includes an allusion to Kafka’s The Metamorphosis in the form of a children’s play. As tiresome as these metaphors become, they do culminate very poignantly in the final sequence.
Luckily, Clark Gregg has gathered together a stellar cast composed mostly of his friends (who all seemingly represent the TV work of Aaron Sorkin) that make the film so enjoyable and effective. The West Wing’s Allison Janney always delivers great performances and this is no exception (although it is sad to see her in a position of such limited authority, constantly dealing with the bigger personalities around her). Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’s Amanda Peet is less harsh than usual and provides plenty of sparks in her chemistry with Gregg. Sports Night’s Felicity Huffman is terrifying as the controlling studio executive hell-bent on getting exactly what she wants (no matter whom she crushes on the way). There are even some amusingly comedic cameos by Molly Shannon and William H. Macy.
The performance that really stands out, though, is newcomer Saxon Sharbino. To continue his life imitating art filmmaking approach, Gregg purposefully sought out a new actress for the role. And she certainly succeeds in that. She has all the depth and gravitas of Chloe Grace Moretz (which is to say a lot) and even comes off as more charming. I look forward to seeing what other great roles Sharbino will tackle next.
Trust Me is a film that requires you to trust in the filmmaker, and I, for one, feel safe in trusting Clark Gregg. He has a passion for this film (and his other projects, too) that translates into quality on screen. It is true that, as he said, there is “nothing funner than making a movie with your friends.” And, ultimately, that’s what makes this film resonate so well with audiences.