Every family has stories and relics that are passed down for generations to come. Most of the time these are lucky items, stories of the time a celebrity was almost your grandfather, or even just the arcade token from a first date. All of these may seem silly, but they each could have sentimental value to a family. But, what do you do when you are given a family heirloom that could be proof that the history books may be wrong? This is the driving idea in the film Sword of Trust which I was able to check out at this year’s Provincetown Film Festival.
The film, which is directed by Lynn Shelton, follows two women named Cynthia and Mary (played by Jillian Bell and Michaela Watkins) who are in town to claim the inheritance of Cynthia’s recently deceased grandfather. What Cynthia is given is an old Civil War-era sword that her grandfather used to show the family and tell stories about it. According to the stories, the sword was believed to be proof that the South was the actual winner of the Civil War. With this information and the need to make money quickly to be able to buy her grandfather’s house, the women take the sword to a pawn shop run by a man named Mel (Marc Maron) and his employee Nathaniel (Jon Bass) who are intrigued by the sword.
Mel and Nathaniel, who were played beautifully by Maron and Bass, are in a similar situation as the women. Their shop is barely making ends meet and Mel is losing his drive to continue on with business. But, when Cynthia and Mary bring in the sword and explain the story behind it, Mel was given a spark of hope that he could make this work in his favor. What happens along their journey to deliver the sword to the potential buyer is funny, weird, and bittersweet.
The film thrives on its use of dry and dark humor which Maron and Bell are both experts in. The silent joke of the story is that no one actually believes that the sword is proof of the South winning the Civil War, but they pretend to so they can make the sale. As the group tries to keep their façade up for the buyer, they begin to learn more about each other and connect on a level that makes them almost friends. This feels very much like an indie movie as opposed to a road trip comedy that you’d see in the mid 2000’s.
The one flaw was the idea that this film might’ve been a better short film than feature length film. The story idea is relatively simple and definitely could’ve been watered down a bit and made into a much shorter film. Even with a 90-minute runtime, the film was straining to justify the lenght. The writing was decent, especially in the scenes with all four lead actors acted against one another, but the rest of the dialogue felt stretched out and not needed. It’s a very unique and strange idea for a story, but it could’ve been done in a shorter format.
As far as performances go, Bell and Maron stole the show with their roles in this film. Bell brings her clever wit that she’s become known for in her various comedic roles like 22 Jump Street. Maron typically plays the same type of character in all of his roles which can be classified as “grumpy, jaded middle-aged man who gets annoyed easily”. As the character of Mel, his signature style seemed to fit perfectly. The supporting characters of Mary and Nathaniel play off the strengths of Bell and Maron and create a very fun and smooth relationship between the four characters.
Sword of Trust takes an obscure idea and a great cast of characters and makes a pretty solid film. Although it could’ve been an equally good short film, the finished product uses its dark comedy and the comedic strengths of its actors to fuel this entertaining journey to sell a family heirloom.