' ' Cinema Romantico: Outside In

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Outside In

The first shot of “Outside In” is the camera looking down on Chris (Jay Duplass) as he looks up through a passenger side car window, giddily eating French fries, basking in the sunshine. It is his moment in the sun, literally and figuratively, because he is a 38 year old ex con just released from prison on his way home to a life that will prove vastly different. It is a common cinematic scenario, and while writer/director Lynn Shelton cannot transcend every trapping, she still, as this shot implies, wrings much truth from her timeworn premise, illustrating how beginning again can happen at any age.

He returns to the mess immediately courtesy of his semi-clueless brother (Ben Schwartz) who squires Chris to a coming home party where everyone wants to talk about what this new parolee is going to do now. The difficulty of transition is evident not just in hoary sight of Chris retreating to the bathroom to the vomit but in the movie’s pleasingly distinct sense of place, shot on location (the cinematography was by Nathan M. Miller) in Granite Falls, Washington, where the omnipresent gray skies and shabby locales where Chris peddles his bike to drop off job applications all suggest somewhere with its best days behind it.

That may or may not also be true of Carol Beasley (Edie Falco), Chris’s high school teacher who, we learn, is the person who fought for and helped attain his early release. We don’t learn much about the crime itself, a gas station robbery that just feels like a MacGuffin, limited to a brief flashback with a tone out of step with the rest of the film’s rhythm, nor Carol’s crusade, hinted at in the stacks of file boxes we briefly see being moved. No, that movie took place in a different universe, a non-Lynn Shelton universe. That movie deliberately comes in right after the heroics have taken place and the crusading ersatz lawyer is made to actually spend quality (or not) time with the person she helped free, revealing the whole host of complications you always wonder about post-Hollywood fadeout.

Those complications involve Carol’s family, including a husband (Charles Leggett) who is the kind of person that considers saying his piece and then shutting up to be the equivalent of “talking”. If the outline of their relationship might feel cut and pasted from so many movies before, Falco’s performance injects it with some melancholy heft, her incredulous eyes when her husband emotionally shuts down becoming a virtual window into a whole uncommunicative past. Carol’s daughter, Hildy (Kaitlyn Dever), meanwhile, is still in high school but forms a friendship with Chris anyway, a nifty evocation of the sort of stasis that you usually glimpse in cinematic parolees.

There is a scene where mother, daughter and ex-con have dinner and it is clear in the instant rapport between Hildy and Chris that they are keyed into a similar wavelength, one born of youth, more than Carol and Chris, going to show how 20 years really has passed without him. A tantalizing, if creepy, love triangle is suggested in this moment, one the movie teases without ever seeing it all the way through, perhaps because that creepiness was a bridge too far.

No, “Outside In” maintains focus on the halting relationship between Chris and Carol, which refuses to progress quite the way you are conditioned to expect. If it does briefly include the time-honored fleabag motel rendezvous, Shelton shoots the sequence in a kind of close-up that drains it of any amour, and Falco, ever the professional, plays the moment less like consummation than desperation. Indeed, the great revelation is that for all these two put into each other over the years, they do not really know one another at all, perhaps having been stronger in small bursts than in person and all the time.

That’s hard for Chris to take, given how much stock he’d put into their connection over the years, and the most searing, insightful moment in the film is when he is made to endure Carol’s confession that their relationship might have existed as her impetus for a personal and professional restart. And even if Chris is never really moved out of the film it sort of becomes Carol’s anyway, brought home forcefully in the performance of Falco, one where her passion dips but never dims.

No comments: