In his auspicious debut feature, The Unbelievable Truth, writer-director Hal Hartley fashioned a quirky romance between an ambitious model and a suspected mass murderer who were products of neurotic middle-class families on Long Island. Hartley, who was born and raised in that New York suburban region, returns to the same fertile ground in Trust and confirms his promise as a gifted comic mannerist. The lovers in Trust flaunt their emotional wounds. Maria, played by Truth‘s ultrasexy Adrienne Shelly, is a selfish high-school student whose out-of-wedlock pregnancy brings on her father’s fatal coronary and her mother’s decision to throw her out of the house. Maria’s swollen belly (the father is a school jock) is a reminder of her guilt. Matthew, played by the smoldering Martin Donovan, is an electronics wiz whose temper is controlled only around his father (John MacKay), a cleanliness fanatic who heaps Daddy Dearest abuse upon Matthew for the slightest hygienic infraction. Matthew’s anger is symbolized by the live grenade he carries everywhere.
Though Maria and Matthew are an absurdly unlikely match, Shelly and Donovan — both wonderfully appealing — make the relationship credible and touching. What they have is trust, something they try to convince themselves is better than love. What they don’t have is family support. Matthew’s father calls Maria a “lowlife bitch.” Maria’s mother, incisively acted by Merritt Nelson, stages a boozing contest with Matthew — though her Scotch is watered — with the winner keeping Maria. These two households, both alike in indignity, form the basis for Hartley’s dysfunctional Romeo and Juliet for the Nineties. Within its small, darkly funny range, Trust is an exceptional film that stays alert to the mysteries of love.