- “Do you miss your kids?”
- “Do you hate your ex-husband?”
- “Do you want to get married again?”
- “Of course”.
A cavalier convo between a high-school drop-out Maria (Shelly) and her divorced elder sister Peg (Falco) in TRUST, US indie hyphenate Hal Hartley’s second feature, gives the gist of the vicious circle that a woman often gets entangled with, and in Hartley’s quirky but roundly unconventional girl-meet-boy yarn, he will ensure that the same fate will not befall upon his protagonist Maria.
Starting from its opening’s drop-dead gambit, TRUST sets its deadpan timbre squarely in the center. Maria naively takes her jock boyfriend’s throwaway promise of marriage for granted and gets pregnant, and obliquely is answer for her father’s sudden shuffling off this mortal coil (she never knows he has a bad heart!), consequentially is frozen out by everyone else, barely getting out of harm’s way from a sex pervert in a liqueur store, she falls in with Matthew (Donovan), a retiring loner but a consummate electronic repairman who has a retrograde affinity of analog over digital and prefers repairing radios over televisions (the latter causes cancer to boot), they hits it off fine, nothing remotely earth-shattering or libido-driven, by choice, Hartley brilliantly teases out the encroaching tenderness which they will grow for each other, a healthier, more humanistic and salutary type of connection between two strangers, which prods both to make some vital decisions: an abortion or keeping the baby, securing a 9 to 5 dead-end job or sticking to one’s ground, getting married or stay as friends on the common ground of their mutual affection and trust.
There is some bad parenting in the mix too, Matthew is in the receiving end of an abusive father (MacKay), that kind would gut-punch his own son without blinking an eye, who still rankles that Matthew’s mother died of giving birth to him (called it narrow-minded or inward-looking is a criminal overstate), from where one can see where Matthew’s inchoate violent proclivity comes. More enigmatically misandrist is Maria’s mother Jean (played by an unknown Nelson with Janus-faced finesse between astuteness and sangfroid), whose confiding moment of the aftermath of her recent bereavement tellingly vouchsafes the heartening fact: Mr. Hartley is devoid of the usual unsavory male-chauvinism in his chromosomes.
The two leads are both excellent, Adrienne Shelly has a cool girl’s composure seeping through her trademark elfin air, totally sympathetic as a hapless misfit whereas a subplot entailing a snaffled infant baby singles out Maria’s learning curve of motherhood and in those moments, she is unassumingly observant and grown-up. On the other hand, Martin Donovan makes great play of a vastly conflicted persona shrouded by antisocial angst but finds fondness with an unlike match, flagged up by the grenade he carries, Matthew’s self-destructive predisposition has only one antidote, a sincere, real human connection based on mutual trust, isn’t that what everyone wants?
Shot in a shoestring budget within a meagre 11-day span, imbued with an antiseptic, blueish hue and blessed with Hartley’s expressive compositions and other winning trimmings, TRUST is whimsical but not cutesy, rapier-like but never doctrinaire, earnest yet at times you can catch its knowing wink: kookiness is the new sexy, and don’t forget, Harley juvenilia is made in 1990.
referential points: Wes Anderson’s RUSHMORE (1998, 7.3/10); John Waters CRY-BABY (1990, 6.2/10); Amy Heckerling’s CLUELESS (1995, 6.6/10).