The unlikely relationship between a pregnant high school student and a brooding electronics repairman lies at the center of this droll comedy from writer-director Hal Hartley. Intelligent but unconventional, Maria (Adrienne Shelly) has more to worry about than her pregnancy, as her expectant state drives away her boyfriend and triggers a fatal heart attack in her father. Meanwhile, Matthew (Martin Donovan) has his own problems: an abusive father, a heightened sense of morality that prevents him from taking semi-lucrative television repair jobs, and a suicidal streak that causes him to carry around a potentially deadly grenade. The meeting of these troubled minds at first promises to be beneficial for both, but sours as they are forced to interact with each other’s dysfunctional families. As in all of Hartley’s pictures, the narrative is filtered through an amusingly detached sensibility that some may consider an acquired taste.
~ Judd Blaise, All Movie Guide
‘Trust’: Black Humor And Unlikely Lovers
Putting on her purple lipstick one morning, a teen-ager tells her father she’s pregnant. He calls her a slut, she slaps his face and the minute she stomps out the door he drops dead. Just as you were warned: if you break your father’s heart, it will kill him. The situation is part nightmare, part bad joke, and the perfect deadpan way to kick off Hal Hartley’s “Trust.”
Mr. Hartley’s two feature films — “The Unbelievable Truth” was released last year — share a droll, distinctive manner. He drops by suburban Long Island, finds a couple of young characters who have skewed but thoroughly sensible attitudes, and lets them find each other. Like the films of this 31-year-old writer and director, Mr. Hartley’s characters look realistic, act cockeyed and turn out to be just right.
Maria, the pregnant teen-ager in a miniskirt and a high-school jacket, tells her boyfriend about the baby. He dumps her and goes to football practice. Back home, Maria’s mother says she will never forgive her for killing her father and throws her out of the house. At the end of this luckless day, she finds shelter in an empty house and meets Matthew, potentially more lethal than she is and just the right guy to understand her.
When the film introduces Matthew he is so disgusted with his job at a computer factory that he puts his boss’s head in a vise and walks out. Mr. Hartley’s control is so sure that we instantly know Matthew has made the right choice. He may be 10 or so years older than Maria, but he is on the run from a sadistic parent himself. His father obsessively makes him clean the already spotless white bathroom. It is a true act of chivalry and self-sacrifice when Matthew takes Maria home.
Suddenly, it’s a toss-up about who needs whom more. “I carry this with me at all times, just in case,” Matthew says, showing Maria a hand grenade. “Are you emotionally disturbed?” she asks, cutting through politeness as if the superego had never been discovered. No, he answers. But they had been talking about how she killed her dad and thought about killing herself; he was trying to be sympathetic. Neither Maria nor Matthew is strong enough to escape alone, but each recognizes that the other needs to be dragged out of a suffocating situation.
Though this film’s tone is more sober and weightier than the black humor of “The Unbelievable Truth,” Mr. Hartley has kept his sense that everyone seems screwy if you just look hard enough. As Maria and Matthew navigate toward each other, they keep bumping into characters who only seem normal.
A nurse at the abortion clinic is most sympathetic when she takes off her cap and pours a couple of glasses of Scotch for Maria and herself. Maria’s sister is a flirty, gum-chomping waitress, a real type. She seems Neanderthal next to her younger sister, especially after Maria pulls back her hair, puts on her glasses and starts thinking about her life. “I am ashamed,” this new Maria writes in a notebook. “I am ashamed of being young. I am ashamed of being stupid.”
Surrounded by people who would agree with that wrenching self-description, she is lucky to find Matthew. As Maria says, their relationship is based on trust, admiration and respect. She is determined to convince him that those qualities add up to love, even if she has to jump off a bridge to prove it. This might be love, but not the kind usually seen on screen. At the moment they seem about to kiss, Maria pulls back and says, “Give me your hand grenade.”
Adrienne Shelly, who starred as another quick-to-grow-up teen-ager in “The Unbelievable Truth,” makes Maria’s transformation from a smart-mouthed girl to a wise young woman both poignant and credible. Like Ms. Shelly, Martin Donovan (as Matthew) knows how to make Mr. Hartley’s pared-down, stylized dialogue express the essence of his character. Though Mr. Hartley’s films are richly detailed, there are no frills or grace notes. Such work risks being too blunt, but “Trust” comes through.
by Caryn James, New York Times, July 26, 1991
* Interview with Hal Hartley, Adrienne Shelly (recently deceased), Martin Donovan and Ted Hope from 2005
* Original Theatratical Trailer
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