Thursday, May 8, 2014

On Demand now and opening theatrically soon: TRUST ME, the best inside-Hollywood film since...

Since... when? The Bad and the Beautiful? The Player? Hollywoodland? Take your choice, or just fill in your own favorite "Hollywood" movie here. Seems like every decade or two, along comes one of those inside-the-industry films that sticks. Such a one is TRUST ME, the new "inside" movie written and directed by and starring Clark Gregg, a fellow most of us have seen and enjoyed, usually in smaller roles that he fills out graciously and fully. Not anymore. This film should put Mr. Gregg, shown above and below, on the "star" map. He's clearly a force with which we must now reckon.

The fellow has written himself a wonderful role, to which he gives his all (what a pleasure it is to see the guy really cut loose in all directions). He also directs with a surprisingly sure sense of what to do and how to do it -- or at very least he has surrounded himself with some terrific technicians in all departments. Trust Me tells the tale of Howard Holloway, a former child star (though we don't really learn this fact, I think, until well into things) who now acts as an agent for upcoming child actors.

The movie begins with Howard, late for an appointment as usual, rushing off to help guide his little actor to success at an audition. Gregg is amazing in this scene -- by turns helpful, harmful, crazy, sane, smart and stupid. Everyone surrounding him is aces, as well. Clearly, the man knows how to cast and then to bring out the best in his actors. By chance, or maybe by something a little bit more pre-determined, he comes upon a new and slightly older child actress, up for a lead role in what everyone hopes will be a new franchise based on some best-selling novels. This actress, Lydia, is good -- really good -- and she takes a liking to Howard. Her father, however (a lip-smackingly craven job from Paul Sparks, below), doesn't care so much for our guy.

From there we go deeper and deeper inside things -- via managers (Molly Shannon), parents, filmmakers, actors, agents (Sam Rockwell in a small but choice role), studio people (large and small: that's Allison Janney, below, dishing up as only she can serve it), right to the big-cheese woman producer, or maybe she's a studio head (the kind of subtle and then ferocious performance from Felicity Huffman, that will cause male audience member's dicks to shrink) who clearly calls all the shots.

Trust Me moves, from first scene to last, like a house afire. and it's funny, too. Really funny. And nasty. And crass. And then it's moving. And real. And shocking. And sad. Gregg weaves all this together so expertly that we're laughing our asses off one second, then watching, mouths agape, as something near-magical happens.

This is not the uber-cynicism of Altman's Player. If you want that, go elsewhere.  Oh, there is plenty of cynicism here, but it's matched with feeling and yearning and especially love -- for what the industry always promises but seldom delivers. "Trust me," though a much used phrase/command, is a fine title for this film because that's what every character here is saying, out loud or implicitly, though to a man and woman, they all have unbridled self-interest entirely at heart. Only Howard -- and a couple of other characters we meet (his lovely neighbor, played by Amanda Peet, above, is one of these) -- seem to be able to occasionally rise above this.

What makes Trust Me really special however, is its nuanced look at Howard's character. This guy wants, he needs to believe in the dream factory in which he labors. This is his undoing. We can see it in the scene in which he helps coach his young actress, a knockout performance from Saxon Sharbino, above, into delivering the kind of acting everyone wants. We view Howard's dream again later, as we learn his history, and understand what this early success meant to him.

Wings are a big theme in the film, too -- from the butterfly we see in odd places, almost from the start, to the winged characters that inhabit the new franchise about to be filmed and who represents the "new" species, or perhaps what we human might someday be capable of. But of course that's just fantasy.

Mr. Gregg, via Howard's character, implicates us all in the work of the dream factory. We're so like him, no? We want to hold on to that dream. Finally, Gregg gives us, via this amazing film, all the backstabbing and glamor, the hopes dashed against reality, the thrills and the bleakness of the industry that provides the product that so many of us consider vital to our lives. (And all the while, the movie is consistently funny and entertaining.) But what remains at the end? You'll see. Trust Me is one hell of a ride -- and an accomplishment. This is the inside-Hollywood film for the new millennium. Don't miss it.

From Starz Digital Media, the movie is showing now via VOD and iTunes, and will hit theaters on Friday, June 6. 

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