Presenting the US premiere of her latest film, Outside In, Lynn Shelton walked out on stage wearing sunglasses. “I wish I could say I’m a Hollywood douchebag and that’s why I’m wearing these sunglasses, but it’s just an eye thing.” Shelton may not be a douchebag, but she is god damned capital-c Cool. From Humpday
to Your Sister’s Sister to Laggies, Shelton has just been making these great comedies that most people never seem to notice, and she doesn’t care. I mean, I’m guessing she wishes more people would notice, because artists make art to be appreciated, but she’s not going to change her style or approach just to get more eyeballs.
Which is what makes her first turn at a more straight-drama such a wonder to watch. Outside In has the same notes as Shelton’s prior comedies, but there’s more sincerity to it. The story is about a man, Chris (Jay Duplass) just out of prison and suffering from arrested development since he was all of 18 when he went behind bars. Now that he’s out, his relationship with the married Carol (Eddie Falco) is able to blossom in full complication. She was his high school teacher, then she was the woman who befriended him while he was behind bars and helped him fight his way out. And now she’s … well, that’s the question.
But the question and the answer don’t matter. What matters is just getting to watch Falco on screen in this role. Any of us who have been paying attention for the last couple of decades — seriously, Oz was over 20 years ago! — know that she is amazing. But this role is like a glove for her. At a post-screening Q&A, Falco noted that she was drawn to this movie because it just shows the way people talk and, more importantly, “You don’t get to see women over forty in love and confused about it.” And she is so effortless in this that if you’re not paying close attention you’ll miss what fine work she’s doing. Duplass is good, the surrounding cast is good, but Falco is next-level.
And of course, it helps her to have Shelton on the other side of the camera. While I was taking notes, I found myself repeatedly writing variations of the same word — “natural”. In its simplest terms, mumblecore was a pocket of low budget indie films in the last decade that focused on natural, often improvised, dialogue. Shelton was one of the filmmakers most directly associated with the mumblecore movement, so it comes as no surprise that her films retain this naturalistic style. While her earlier films felt a little rawer, a little more experimental, Shelton instead shows a honed confidence here. The film still has Shelton’s energy and still lives on the boundary of what we’re used to seeing in a movie, but the shots are steadier, more purposeful. There were two shots in scenes that are complementary yet mirrors, in a way, and while I’m not one to pick up on directorial subtleties, there was a neat trick Shelton pulls off where the framing and character positioning actually have the simple shot itself telling you what’s going through Falco’s mind before the character herself can. It was when I caught this that I realized I was watching something special.
Look, you’ll note that I haven’t told you much about the story or the other characters beyond a cursory summary above. Correct. It’s not that none of this matters — in fact, the story feels like one we’ve seen many times before, except that it sometimes zigs and then when you think it might zig again, it instead just hits you with a wallop of earned emotion. The story is sweet — at times funny, at times painfully sad — the cast is great (shout out to Ben Schwartz for a wonderfully grounded performance), and the Andrew Bird score is beautiful. But this film belongs to Shelton and Falco, and it’s great to see two women just so on top of their game, showing everyone how it’s done.
Outside In had its US premiere at the 2018 South by Southwest Conference. It’s available on most of your favorite VOD platforms and is well worth treating yourself with on a quiet night at home.