The Movie Waffler First Look Review - OUTSIDE IN | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - OUTSIDE IN

outside in film review
A convict on parole pursues an affair with the high school teacher who aided his release.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Lynn Shelton

Starring: Edie Falco, Jay Duplass, Kaitlyn Dever, Ben Schwartz, Matt Molloy, Stephen Grenley

outside in film poster

Having spent the last few years in the journeywoman world of TV directing, Lynn Shelton returns to the movies with Outside In. It's a considerable step up for a filmmaker whose CV has been filled with enjoyable but insubstantial dramas that never really stood out from the rest of the American indie cinema stable. Like many of her compatriots, the pattern with Shelton's films has tended towards mild Sundance appraisal followed by VOD obscurity. That's regrettably unlikely to change with Outside In, which most viewers will likely stumble across by accident on Netflix at some point this year, but the praise is very much justified, and Shelton's latest deserves to find a large audience among viewers who appreciate well crafted adult dramas.

Collaborating on the script with that other US indie darling, Jay Duplass, who also stars here, Shelton gives us a film whose premise sounds like a parody of Sundance cinema, built as it is around that old cliché of a thirtysomething returning to their hometown after an extended absence. What makes Outside In stand out is a somewhat darker subtext than we're accustomed to with such indie dramas, and one which puts it in territory similar to Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea.

outside in film

As an 18-year-old, Chris (Duplass) took the rap for the murder of a liquor store clerk in order to protect his younger brother, Ted (Ben Schwartz), a known acquaintance of the killer. After 20 years in prison, Chris is freed thanks to the tireless work of his former high school teacher Carol (Edie Falco), and returns home to live with Ted.

During his time inside, Chris formed an intense bond with Carol, the only person who showed him any affection, and the only woman he likely had any contact with. Now that he's out, Chris hopes to escalate his relationship with his former teacher into a romantic one. Carol has equally grown attracted to her former pupil, but is unwilling to leave her unappreciative husband (Stephen Grenley), despite their marriage having become grounded on the rocks in recent years. Complicating things further is the friendship that grows between Chris and Carol's teenage daughter, Hildy (Kaitlyn Dever), who develops romantic feelings of her own towards Chris.

outside in film

Shelton's film concerns some very heavy dramatic themes, but her background in comedy, and her casting of actors best known for comic roles, prevents Outside In from descending into a misery fest. There's something very human, and quite fresh, about how its characters make light of and find black humour in the troubled situations they find themselves in. Carol seeks lunchtime advice from a fellow teacher (Matt Molloy), a gay man who cheers her up by pointing out how envious he is of her for having a handsome 38-year-old lusting after her, to which she replies "well he is looking for work." Chris and Ted's strained relationship reaches a cathartic point that ends in a wonderfully warm moment in which the brothers bond over a realisation of how laughable Ted's awkward attempt at a reconciliation is.

Duplass transcends his status as an indie film jack of all trades by delivering a performance that suggests his real talent lies in front of the camera, palpably conveying the idea of a teenager trapped in a 38-year-old body, two decades of his life having been cruelly put on hold. One of his first actions upon returning home is to break out his old BMX, taking it for a spin in a scene that captures the joy a freed convict feels with the wind on his face. Elsewhere, Dever continues to build on the promise shown in her turn as a damaged teen in Destin Daniel Cretton's affecting drama Short Term 12.

outside in film

This is Falco's film however, the veteran actress gifting her director with the sort of performance that would garner awards talk if Shelton's surname was Lonergan. Discarding the facepaint of her Sopranos and Nurse Jackie roles, she embodies the sort of timid MidWest women who always seem to pull off the sort of social justice victories she accomplishes for Chris, a secular nun in a convent of her making. Shelton and Duplass's script is economic in how few words it puts in her mouth - Carol is a character who literally finds herself speechless at the pivotal scenario Chris's puppy dog affection creates. Watch Falco's face in the lead up to the movie's sensitive and very female oriented sex scene - you can see her running every possible outcome of the act she so wants to take part in through her pragmatic school teacher's head.

Outside In is the latest in a recent wave of great women directed movies, and it's another one that makes a mockery of the reductive Bechdel Test, a metric it fails while giving us a couple of the most well rendered women we'll see on screen in 2018 in Carol and Hildy. The mother and daughter's one shared dialogue scene sees them discuss the film's male lead, but they're using their relationships with him to tell us about themselves. The Bechdel may work when applied to literature or theatre, where we can read or hear verbalised a character's thoughts. Cinema however, when done correctly at least, makes us do the hard work of interpreting a character's thoughts by their actions, expressions, posture, placement in the frame et al; but when a director is as subtly skilled as Shelton, and her star as talented an actor as Falco, it's not such hard work.

Outside In is in US cinemas March 30th and VOD April 3rd. A UK/ROI release TBA.