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Examining an intimacy built under such artificial conditions that it threatens to explode once the rules change, Lynn Shelton’s Outside In finds a just-released convict (Jay Duplass) having a hard time understanding why the woman responsible for his release (Edie Falco) won’t run away with him. The least jokey of Shelton’s films to date and also arguably the most satisfying (no offense, Humpday and My Sister’s Sister), it marks a welcome return to the big screen for Shelton, who of late has been a prolific director of TV comedy. A predictably first-rate turn by Falco is no news here, but Duplass‘ deeply felt performance is (at least to those who haven’t yet caught up to Transparent); it threatens to make him, like brother Mark, as in-demand in front of the camera as behind it.
Duplass plays Chris, who we gather has spent 20 years in prison without deserving it. He’s released before his sentence is up because Falco’s Carol, his former high school teacher, took up his case as a personal cause, doing years of legal legwork to get him free. During that time she also became his de facto best friend: While brother Ted (Ben Schwartz) and others neglected him (thanks to guilty consciences that will be explained), Carol listened to his troubles and revealed much about her own.
Knowing Carol’s marriage has been loveless for years, Chris expects to give her the love her life lacks. But in their first scenes alone together, her discomfort and ambivalence are achingly palpable: It seems not to have occurred to her that Chris’ release might enable her own; she hasn’t even asked herself if release is what she wants.
Trying to find a comfortable zone where they can build a friendship, Carol introduces Chris to her family. Her daughter Hildy (Kaitlyn Dever), who unlike Carol has few reasons not to indulge her curiosity about the charming ex-con, winds up befriending him. As Hildy keeps Chris company while Carol avoids him, Dever’s vulnerable, unshowy performance makes this truly a three-person drama.
Chris certainly needs the company. The screenplay (by Duplass and Shelton) convincingly imagines what a small town feels like to a man who has lost 20 years and has few resources. Chris walks everywhere, has little luck finding work and learns that his old friends — though claiming to want to catch up — have started new lives with little room for him. An excellent score by Andrew Bird and fine, drizzly-day lensing by Nathan M. Miller underline his predicament without sentimentalizing loneliness.
A love story whose resolution remains tough to predict, Outside In respects all its characters by not pretending their choices are easily made. “Have you thought this through?,” Carol asks during one of the occasions when Chris suggests they should be together. He has, and is big-heartedly ready to make that dream real. But a scenario imagined inside a prison cell may need some tweaking in the outside world.
Production company: Duplass Brothers Productions
Distributor: The Orchard
Cast: Edie Falco, Jay Duplass, Kaitlyn Dever, Ben Schwartz
Director: Lynn Shelton
Screenwriters: Lynn Shelton, Jay Duplass
Producers: Mel Eslyn, Lacey Leavitt
Executive producers: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Director of photography: Nathan M. Miller
Production designer: John Lavin
Costume designer: Ron Leamon
Editor: Celia Beasley
Composer: Andrew Bird
Casting director: Amey Rene
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentations)
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