20 years ain’t so bad.
After serving 20 years for a crime he didn’t commit, but just so happened to be the fall-guy for, Chris (Jay Duplass) is doing whatever he can to fit into life on the outside. It’s tough getting a job, staying clean, and most importantly, out of trouble. His brother (Ben Schwartz) constantly pisses him off and makes him feel even more alone than he should. And heck, if that wasn’t bad enough, his old English-teacher, Carol (Edie Falco), who also had a hand in helping him get released, now doesn’t want all that much to do with him. But why? Is it because she wants to move onto another case and continue on with her career? Is it because he’s a con just trying to adjust to new life? Or, is it because she’s keeping herself away from a love that could possibly cause all sorts of harm to her already troubled-marriage?
Outside In doesn’t feel at all like a Lynn Shelton movie and with good reason. For one, she co-wrote it with Jay Duplass himself, which gives it a darker, sadder, and perhaps more emotional tone than what we’re used to seeing with her movies. Which is odd for me because on one hand, while I love those movies of hers when they’re done right, it’s also nice to see a solid director finally stretch their wings out a bit further, try something a little new, and see what happens.
And thankfully, the results are just fine.
If anything, Outside In works because of Shelton’s direction and how she doesn’t forget to always keep the focus solely on the characters, literally at all times. We never forget we are watching a story about two sad, lonely, and troubled individuals who are just trying to do what they can to survive and get by, and for that, we grow closer to them and their journey, whether together or apart. While the movie isn’t really as funny as Shelton’s other movies – which may also have to do with the fact that there’s not much improvising to be found – there’s still a lot of heart. It’s just very deep down in there.
And with this cast, Shelton gets a lot of mileage out of what can sometimes be very little. Duplass is pretty solid as Chris, who seems like a normal, everyday dude that just so happens to be incredibly depressed and out of any idea of what to do next with his life. Meanwhile, Falco is also pretty great as Carol, a character who feels the same way, but for much different reasons. Together, the two form a sweet chemistry where you can just feel that their two lonely birds, without anyone, or anything else to turn towards, so why not be with one another. It works and makes you want to see where they both end up, whether together or not.
But really, Outside In is another one of those “sad guy returns to sad, lonely town” indies and it’s hard to get past that fact. Shelton gets the chance to possibly make it a little something more, but because the movie is so sad, so depressing, and surprisingly bleak, it almost feels like she’s constrained. Sure, we didn’t need for their to be improv-y bits scattered throughout like we’re used to with Shelton’s movies, but a little more energy would have helped this feel like something so much more than just another downtrodden indie about, well, downtrodden people.
We get enough of those already, don’t we?
Consensus: Sporting a solid cast, Outside In works as a small, contained drama, that’s also very bleak and a little too sad for its own good.
6.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: The Orchard