Hal Hartley’s second film, Trust, is a dark romantic comedy about the entanglement of a high school dropout (Maria), recently impregnated by a Neanderthal jock boyfriend, and a guy (Matthew) who is too intelligent and outspoken for the many jobs that he can’t hold down. Despite their differences in education, they find an emotional commonality in the parental neglect and disdain they have both suffered. Maria’s mother binds her with the guilt of her father’s heart attack, while Matthew’s father consistently shreds his self-worth, leaving both to suffer from some pretty gaping emotional wounds.
While the movie shares some minor cultural similarities with other Generation X films, it lacks the cloying petulance or whiny narcissism that can sometimes make similar movies annoying or dated. Rather, this is the late ‘80s/early ‘90s as filtered through the cheekily off-kilter mind of Hartley, a director who uses pitch-black humor to dig into the dark crevices of the slacker era while sidestepping the superficial signposts that plague some of its contemporaries. There is a slow-simmering bite to this tale of suburban anomie, and perhaps even a Lynch Lite dalliance with absurdity. Adrianne Shelly and Martin Donovan both give dynamic and nuanced performances, and it’s a shame that neither quite broke through to achieve the level of fame that they both deserved. One can tell that Hartley is still finding his footing (something he would fully achieve with “Henry Fool”), but he was already a uniquely talented director with a distinct vision of this mixed-up, kooky life.