It's too bad when an indie movie is shot locally in a small town, and even reflects pretty positively on that town, and yet the movie does not show in any theatres close to that town. Outside In is set in Granite Falls, 15 miles northwest of Everett, and was shot both there and in Snohomish county -- director Lynn Shelton (Humpday, Your Sister's Sister) grew up in Seattle and tends to set her films in the area. It's too bad any of the roughly 3,000 people who live in Granite Falls would have to travel 43 miles to see it at the one theatre it's playing at in Western Washington, SIFF Cinema at the Uptown on Lower Queen Anne.
Lucky for me, I only life two miles from there! And I'm just one degree removed from residents of the area where the story takes place -- I have an aunt and cousin from Granite Falls. I have no idea if this would hold any interest to them, except to recognize their hometown. And of course, people from Snohomish County will quite easily be able to see this movie on some streaming service before long -- if they think to look for it. Well, take note: this Lynn Shelton woman makes consistently lovely movies, and this one, like the aforementioned ones, is worth looking for. I'm just a bit of a cinema snob myself, and it's always nice to see Pacific Northwest greenery, soggy with rain, depicted on a big screen.
This particular story features Jay Duplass as Chris, a 38-year-old man just out of prison after serving twenty years (in Walla Walla!) for having been associated with a crime in high school. It's made clear he was "in the wrong place at the wrong time," but due to sentencing minimums he was given an unfairly long prison sentence. He's only been released even now thanks to the tireless legal work of his high school English teacher, Carol (Edie Falco).
Outside In examines the struggles of such a person re-entering public life after two decades behind bars, including an understandable infatuation with Carol, his one true friend on the outside through all that time. Acclimating to smart phones is the least of his troubles.
Carol, for her part, is stuck in a lifeless marriage and feels increasingly distant from her daughter Hildy (Kaitlyn Dever), who herself takes an interest in Chris, although that interest never quite crosses over into the romantic. Chris also has a brother (Ben Schwartz, very convincing as a Duplass brother) who feels very guilty, and is thus surrounded by people who desperately want the best for him, don't quite know how to help him get it, and find themselves enmeshed in his life in variously awkward ways.
And if there is anything Outside In traffics in, it's awkwardness. I squirmed in my seat at this movie more than I do at many horror movies. Edie Falco is excellent in her depiction of a conflicted woman who can't really decide whether she feels the same way Chris unabashedly feels about her.
Beyond that, the story here unfolds both organically and pleasantly, and in spite of all the awkwardness, in the end it's rather sweet. With the exception of Carol's husband (Charles Leggett), who is kind of a clueless dipshit, these characters all offer their own reasons to make you wish you could just give them a big hug. Jay Duplass is very well cast for this sort of thing.
And getting back to that setting, this is also of note: Lynn Shelton is one of the few directors who knows how to present the Pacific Northwest, and particularly its precipitation, in a realistic way. No claps of thunder! No torrential rainfalls! It's actually raining in only a few of the scenes, and then only lightly; the rest of the time it's -- well, green, gray and damp. For about three quarters of the year around here, that about sums it up. But the camera in this movie also shows effectively how beautiful that leaves the region, especially the rural areas, roads cutting through hills thick with pines.
The small town people are depicted realistically and respectfully, for the record, with no particular agenda in representation. The most political this gets is Carol's tireless work to combat unfair sentencing. This is a simple story of a duck out of water, or maybe more specifically a duck that's been away from water too long and no longer quite knows what to do with it. It makes for a refreshingly unique story, and an ultimately heartwarming one at that.