Edie Falco delivers an award-worthy performance in Outside In.
Photo by Nathan M. Miller

Edie Falco delivers an award-worthy performance in Outside In. Photo by Nathan M. Miller

Second Chances in Snohomish

Edie Falco commands the screen in Lynn Shelton’s ‘Outside In.’

“You are to stay within Snohomish County,” the man says sternly. These words—not often uttered in the cinema—are spoken by a parole officer to a newly released ex-con in Outside In.

They are also taken to heart by the film’s director, Lynn Shelton, who creates a beguiling mood piece by staying close to her local roots. This film is especially evocative in its sense of place: There’s an unmistakable familiarity in the way the camera sees the evergreen-lined byroads east of Everett and the homey storefronts of Granite Falls. I spotted the little smear of green mold that develops around car windows when they haven’t been cared for during a Northwest winter (something I might possibly have some experience with). Outside In is about feeling like an outsider on your own home turf, but it’s been made with a native’s view of the landscape.

The outsider is local boy Chris (Jay Duplass, who also co-wrote the script with Shelton). He’s back in his Washington hometown after 20 years—half his life—in prison. We gradually learn that his former high-school teacher Carol (Edie Falco) worked tirelessly to get his unfairly long sentence commuted. The film’s core idea is genuinely unusual: Chris is so lost in his new freedom that he attaches himself too eagerly to Carol, an older, married, uncertain woman. Adding Carol’s daughter Hildy (a spot-on Kaitlyn Dever, from Detroit) to the mix pushes the movie into possibly dangerous territory. Not so much because of the creepiness about a 40-year-old man hanging around a teenager (Shelton makes it clear that the girl pushes their friendship, out of Hildy’s own needs and curiosities), but because Hildy’s nascent artistic tendencies—explored in a conveniently abandoned house outside town—might become overly precious.

Shelton is known for comedies such as Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister, but this may be her strongest film, and it doesn’t have a lot of laughs. In fact, some of the film’s more awkward moments come with little throwaway bits of humor. It really only flags when Falco’s Carol is offscreen too long. That’s not a knock on Duplass (best known as an actor for his ongoing role in Transparent, but also an indie-film-producing dynamo with brother Mark); dark-eyed and anxious, he’s absolutely fine. He’s got a great jealous moment when Carol begins to describe her interest in working to free another incarcerated man, a sign of how the legal part of this experience has liberated something inside her. The wary look that crosses Chris’ face suggests a teenager hearing his girlfriend talk about a new guy at work who seems really nice.

Outside In belongs to Falco, who transforms herself into a prematurely frumpy, fascinatingly restless soul. She’s conquered television in The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie, but it’s great to see Falco in a single sustained performance, where every line reading is concentrated with a lifetime’s worth of regrets and hopes. Everything about Carol is thought through, including her look—she’s encased in dowdy flannels and a don’t-mind-me-I’m-nobody hairstyle. Set this performance next to the five Best Actress Oscar nominees from last year (or the Best Actors, for that matter), and tell me it’s not securely in that company.

It’s a terrific actor working at top form, but Shelton keeps the surroundings so modest—little dramatic scenes punctuated by shots of roads and skies—that it never comes off like a grand turn. Falco and Shelton let you peer into a humble life, without condescending to it or making it feel like a case study. We’re looking from the inside out.

Outside In

Opens April 6 at SIFF Cinema Uptown | Not Rated

More in Film

‘Roma’ projects to be the big winner at the 91st Academy Awards this Sunday. Photo by Carlos Somonte
And The Winner Is: 2019 Oscars Preditions

Who will take home the awards on cinema’s biggest night?

Mads Mikkelsen stars in Seattle’s current weather… I mean, ‘Arctic.’ Photo by Helen Sloan/Bleecker Street
Mads Mikkelsen Delivers a Tour de Force in ‘Arctic’

The near-silent performance makes this survival film transcend the genre.

The upbeat everyman Emmet remains cheerful even in post-apocalyptic settings. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Everything’s Still Awesome

‘The Lego Movie 2’ builds on the success of the original with more humorous pop culture-drenched adventure.

In a fairer world, little film like ‘The Rider’ would have a chance at Oscars gold. Photo courtesy Sony Pictures Classics
Who We Would’ve Nominated For 2019 Academy Awards

Narrow defintions of “Oscar worthy films” and Hollywood politics shut out some of the year’s best. Let’s change that.

Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly take the stage as Laurel and Hardy. 
Photo by Nick Wall/Sony Pictures Classics
‘Stan & Ollie’ and the Art of Playing Comedic Geniuses

Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly carry the story of legendary duo Laurel and Hardy.

Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig simmer as musicians in love in <em>Cold</em> <em>War</em>. Photo by Lukasz Bak
The Warm Musical Romance of ‘Cold War’

The gorgeous Polish tale of love behind the Iron Curtain would be a layup for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in a non-‘Roma’ year.

KiKi Layne (Tish) and Stephan James (Fonny) star in ‘If Beale Street Could Talk.’ Photo by Tatum Mangus/Annapurna Pictures
Meandering Along ‘Beale Street’

Barry Jenkins follows up ‘Moonlight’ with the textured racial mood piece, ‘If Beale Street Could Talk.’

Jason Momoa and Patrick Wilson square off in ‘Aquaman.’ Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
‘Aquaman’ Can’t Figure Out Which Wave to Surf

The latest DC Comic movie struggles to find a balance between keeping a straight face and having fun.

Emily Blunt takes on the role of the magical nanny in Mary Poppins Returns. 
Photo courtesy Walt Disney Studios
‘Mary Poppins Returns’ Boasts Nostalgic Musical Charm

The first soundtrack album I ever knew deeply was Mary Poppins, and… Continue reading

Spider-Folks from various dimensions come together in ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.’ Image courtesy Columbia Pictures/Sony
‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ Gets Caught in Its Own Web

The animated comic book gets stuck up on its multiverse fan service.

Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone battle for the queen’s attention in <em>The Favourite</em>. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima/Twentieth Century Fox
Black Comedy with a Regal Veneer

Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz bring catty rivalry to the queen’s court in ‘The Favourite.’

Yalitza Aparicio (left) makes her feature debut as Cleo, the central character in <em>Roma</em>. Photo by Carlos Somonte
‘Roma’ Makes an Epic Film Out of an Intimate Story

Alfonso Cuarón’s memories and vision guide the Spanish-language Oscar front-runner about a young housekeeper in 1970s Mexico.