Director Lynn Shelton is always a welcome presence on the indie scene, with pint-size hits like Humpday, Touchy Feely, Your Sister’s Sister and others that usually turn up at the likes of Sundance and SXSW before landing a modest distribution deal. It has been four years since her last and — until her latest — best film, 2014’s Laggies. In the meantime, she has also carved out a TV directing career to further enhance her résumé and, frankly, pay the bills. It is heartening that she keeps returning to the indie world, especially when there is a movie as good as Outside In.
First seen at Toronto in September, it pairs Edie Falco and Jay Duplass (who co-wrote the script with Shelton) in a touching and expertly crafted drama of human connection. As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), this may be Shelton’s most accomplished film yet, certainly one that many will find moving and engaging.
Duplass, a writer-director-producer with brother Mark who only turned to acting in 2012 when he got cast as Josh Pfefferman in the Amazon series Transparent, plays Chris, a man just released after a 20-year stint in prison for a crime he didn’t really commit but was in the wrong place at the wrong time and took the fall for his brother and friends when he was just 18. During that time behind bars, he largely was forgotten, even by his brother Ted (Ben Schwartz), who now welcomes him back to the Washington state town he hadn’t seen in in two decades. Staying with bro and his partying friends is not the best idea, but it is all he has.
The one person in town he feels closest to is his long-ago English teacher, Carol (Falco), who made it her single-minded mission to get him out of prison and never gave up as she delved into the justice system in order to free him. During this time it soon becomes apparent that her frustrated husband Tom (Charles Leggett) and teenage daughter Hildy (Kaitlyn Dever) largely were ignored too — or at least felt that way. Now that Chris is out, they hope things might be returning to normal, and because of his arrested development, so to speak, Hildy is someone he finds common ground with.
But it is with her mother that he is determined to find common ground — the person he feels closest to and the one who never abandoned him. For Carol, the feelings lead to confusion and a journey into her self, an effort that causes her to question her own worth and happiness. She keeps Chris at bay until circumstances collide and the magnetic pull of a man who became an obsession of sorts is too much to ignore.
The film ultimately is about a group of characters, all of them easily identifiable, who have found themselves in different kinds of prisons and are looking for keys to get out. It also is a story of the need for a common human link with one another. Falco can do no wrong and proves it here with a role that meets her prodigious talents head-on. Duplass shows it is never too late to step in front of a camera, and he is touchingly real and relatable throughout. Shelton lets it all play with grace and effective restraint.
Do you plan to see Outside In? Let us know what you think.