Lynn Shelton’s Outside In stars Jay Duplass as Chris, a newly-paroled ex-con who struggles to reintegrate himself into society after 20 years in prison. He’s in love with his former high-school teacher, Carol (Edie Falco), his biggest advocate throughout his prison years—and likely the reason for his early parole. Ben Schwartz plays Ted, Chris’s brother, with whom Chris has a resentment-based relationship, and the great Kaitlyn Dever (Justified) rounds out the cast as Carol’s daughter Hildy, with whom Chris forms an innocent friendship.
Shelton’s directorial filmography is full of quasi-mumblecore, low-key relationship movies which tend to be better than that description might imply (I’d particularly recommend Your Sister’s Sister, which stars Mark Duplass, the other Duplass brother). And that goes doubly for Outside In, whose premise at first glance is interchangeable with any number of Sundance movies—yet is distinguished from the mass of “sad person returns to his/her hometown” movies, by virtue of Shelton’s inimitable skill as an actor’s director.
Shelton extracts career-best performances from a cast full of people who have been doing great-to-excellent work for years. Schwartz has a scene in this movie that will knock your socks off; I’ve admired Schwartz for years, and could never have guessed that he had this in him. The only core cast member who doesn’t make much of an impression is Dever, who is always a pleasant screen presence but doesn’t have a whole lot to do here (Dever is a solid actress, though; I’m still pulling for a Loretta McCready spinoff all these years later).
Duplass, who co-wrote the amiable screenplay with Shelton, continues his recent streak of quietly resonant performances, prompting the question of why he was the anonymous Duplass for so many pre-Transparent years. This is the best performance of his career thus far, but considering his career trajectory I’d imagine that will change sooner or later.
It’s Falco, though, that makes Outside In special.
Falco has been giving extraordinary performances for as long as she’s been around. She played one of TV’s all-time great characters for years on The Sopranos, and more recently shined on the criminally underseen Horace and Pete. Yet she’s never delivered a performance quite like the one she gives in Outside In. Her character arrives on-screen fully formed, with a certain warmth emanating from her (not a descriptor generally associated with Falco characters). There’s a specificity to her character, for which the screenplay surely deserves partial credit, inasmuch as Carol juggles her home life with her attraction to Jay, all the while being drawn back into the world of prisoner-advocacy due to an altruistic love for the work. Falco’s performance elevates Outside In from above-average Sundancey movie to really wonderful Sundancey movie.
Regardless of some minor flaws and a plot contrivance or two, Outside In is a lovely movie, worth seeing for Falco’s performance alone.