The number one thing many film festival movies struggle with is tone. For whatever reason so many independent movies try to be multiple things at once: a comedy, a drama, an inspirational touching piece of heartfelt humor with sweeping vistas and at least two celebrities you recognize from other things. It seems that with the independence to do something original, a lot of filmmakers take that to mean they can stuff everything they've ever wanted to say into one movie that never finds its direction. Clark Gregg (Choke, Agent Coulson from the Marvel movies) comes dangerously close to smashing the tone of his latest film through a glass window, but instead you're left respecting the filmmaker and his film because it's just got a lot of balls.
Giant balls, if you will.
Trust Me is the name of the film, and it's also what the film wants you to do. It's a title that makes more sense once we hit the halfway point and Gregg begins to veer off into a dark and nutty direction that works if you trust him, his cast and the material.
Gregg writes, directs and stars as Howard, a down-on-his-luck agent for child actors who finds all of his up-and-coming talent being stolen from him by a stone-cold rival agent played by Sam Rockwell. Things begin to look up for Howard when he stumbles across an amazing young actress who may be the frontrunner for the next obnoxiously important teen-lit adaptation (think: Twilight or The Hunger Games), and if he can successfully navigate around the girl's personal and professional demons, this could be the shot he's been waiting for his whole life.
The first half of the movie is smart, upbeat and hilarious, reminding me very much of a mix between Entourage and Broadway Danny Rose with its quirky, bumbling, charismatic lead character and "inside Hollywood" politics. But then things get weird. Really weird. And it's at this point where Gregg shifts the film's tone in a dark direction, flirting with themes of abuse and spirituality -- all while outright hating on big-studio Hollywood. (Seriously, if this movie contained a scene where Howard literally smashed the Hollywood sign to pieces with a hammer, it would make sense within the context of his story.)
That's where the giant balls come in. Here's Clark Gregg, an actor whose star has definitely risen because of his role in these massive franchise movies, and as a director he turns around and makes a film that completely trashes everything that goes into making these massive franchise movies. It's brutal, timely and darkly funny, but there are definitely some missteps. Gregg's main character is both bumbling and disheveled, but sharp, smart and really good at his job. These traits all conflict with each other without a true arc connecting them. There's also a secretary we don't meet till halfway through the film who's obviously cut out of previous scenes either to save time or because her subplot just didn't make enough sense.
Then we get to that aforementioned shift in tone, which would've worked better if it was more about Howard connecting with this actress he discovered, as well as with his own experiences of being a child actor. Instead, things get bogged down in a subplot involving the girl's hickish father.
If Trust Me cut off some of its messy loose ends and tightened up its message, I'd say it's pretty brilliant. But because Gregg has a difficult time balancing everything he's trying to say and do, the film ends up feeling like a series of great moments that work by themselves, but not as a whole.
It's got balls, though. Giant balls. I'll give it that.
MORE: Check out all of our coverage from the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival