Edie Falco and Jay Duplass are remarkable in Seattle-based filmmaker Lynn Shelton's quiet drama about two people living in rain-soaked Granite Falls, Washington. Rating 3.5 stars out of 4.
There can be real joy in movies that are simply character studies — no stunts, no flashy camera work, no jolting plot twist; just people who, over the course of roughly two hours, we come to know and understand intimately. That’s what Seattle-based filmmaker Lynn Shelton (“Humpday,” “Laggies”) does in “Outside In,” a quiet drama about two people living in rain-soaked Granite Falls, Washington.
Chris (Jay Duplass) has just been granted early release after a 20-year prison sentence for a murder he did not commit; Carol (Edie Falco) is his former high-school teacher, who tirelessly worked to commute his sentence. Though Carol is married and significantly older than Chris, the two find an unexpected romantic connection, and aren’t sure what to do with it.
Shelton and Duplass’ screenplay takes its time telling us things; we’re not sure, until more than halfway through, of the exact circumstances of the incident leading to Chris’ imprisonment. But “Outside In” is less interested in plot detail; this is a movie that lives in the way Falco’s face lights up when Carol sees Chris — her eyes brighter, her expression softer. He, likewise, transforms in her presence, looking at her as if he’s discovered treasure. Chris, a romantic who’s spent many years waiting (and who sees Carol as a sort of angel of mercy), believes they have a future: Carol, more practical, mostly thinks they don’t. But the years of working on Chris’ case have changed her; she has come to see her gray-toned life in Granite Falls as something small, and can imagine a future — if only for a minute — in Chris’ eyes.
So many details about this movie feel note-perfect: the awkward laughter at Chris’ welcome-home party; the way an old friend squirmingly avoids inviting Chris in; a scene in which a newly freed Chris rides his bicycle down a tired street, smiling and bouncing in the seat as he feels the cool, tangy air on his face. Mostly, though, “Outside In” is about connection, and about two remarkable actors telling us a story. We don’t know its ending, even when the movie’s over; the power of these performances is that you leave thinking that Chris and Carol are out there, somewhere, and you wish them well.
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★★★½ “Outside In,” with Edie Falco, Jay Duplass, Kaitlyn Dever, Ben Schwartz. Directed by Lynn Shelton, from a screenplay by Shelton and Duplass. 110 minutes. Not rated, for mature audiences (contains strong language and sexuality). SIFF Cinema Uptown. Shelton will be present for a Q&A after the 6:30 p.m. screening on April 6.