A Fragile Relationship Tested By Freedom In 'Outside In'

Mar 30, 2018
Originally published on March 30, 2018 7:51 pm

What happens to a relationship when its rules change?

That's a question writer/director Lynn Shelton has spent a good part of her filmmaking career answering in a series of intimate indie comedies like Humpday and Your Sister's Sister. Her latest, Outside In, stars Edie Falco and Jay Duplass and it centers on a seemingly impossible relationship that ... may just prove possible.

We meet Duplass' character Chris on his way to what will prove a painfully awkward surprise party. One reason it's so awkward is the reason behind the party itself: Chris, now 38, has spent the last 20 years in prison ... apparently without deserving to. He's out now, thanks to the hard and tireless work of Carol (Falco). She believed in him, and threw herself into years of research and legal legwork. She kept his spirits up with lessons and letters — for two decades, she's been his only lifeline. And at this party, everything she's been hoping for, working for, has finally happened: He's here.

What now?

Chris presents her with a gift — a postcard-sized portrait of her that he painted while he was still locked up. He doesn't need it anymore, he tells her, because now he can see her whenever he wants.

And that's where things get complicated. Carol has responsibilities — a husband, a daughter who wasn't even born when Chris went in — so Chris starts trying to readjust to life outside on his own. He tools around town on the bike he rode as an 18-year-old, learning how to interact with kids on skateboards and with onetime pals who now have their own families. As he does this, filmmaker Shelton shows us the teen in the adult — the kid who didn't get a chance to grow up.

The only one who sees Chris clearly is Carol, and when he senses her pulling back from him, he — perhaps unwisely — pushes.

Shelton specializes in placing characters in awkward-to-the-point-of-cataclysmic situations, then settling back to watch what they do. Her actors are always natural and unaffected, but in Falco and Duplass, she's found interpreters who seem to breathe her characters.

Duplass (who co-wrote the script) makes Chris painfully vulnerable in his newfound freedom. Falco's eyes brim as she looks at the man he's become, and laments the prison she's made of her own life.

Where can this all end? It's easy to see what would happen in a mainstream Hollywood movie. Happily, Outside In locates itself outside the mainstream. It doesn't go there — at all.

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What happens to a relationship when it's rules change? Writer-director Lynn Shelton has spent a good part of her filmmaking career answering that question in intimate indie comedies. Her latest, "Outside In," stars Edie Falco and Jay Duplass. Critic Bob Mondello says it centers on an impossible relationship that may just be possible.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: We meet Chris on the drive to what he doesn't realize is a...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OUTSIDE IN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) Surprise.

MONDELLO: He'd been warned.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OUTSIDE IN")

JAY DUPLASS: (As Chris) Hey, guys.

MONDELLO: But that doesn't really kill the awkwardness.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OUTSIDE IN")

DUPLASS: (As Chris) Oh, my God, what are you guys doing here?

(LAUGHTER)

DUPLASS: (As Chris) I just wanted to get burgers.

(LAUGHTER)

DUPLASS: (As Chris) What's the big deal?

MONDELLO: The big deal is that Chris, who is now 38, has spent the last 20 years in prison apparently without deserving it. He's out now because of the hard work of someone who believed in him.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OUTSIDE IN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Chris' high school teacher Mrs. Beasley is here.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) You know, if it wasn't for you, Chris would still be in jail.

MONDELLO: Carol Beasley spent years on research, legal legwork, on keeping Chris' spirits up with lessons and letters, two decades of being nearly his only lifeline. And now...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OUTSIDE IN")

EDIE FALCO: (As Carol) Hi.

MONDELLO: ...What she'd been working for has happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OUTSIDE IN")

FALCO: (As Carol) Holy moly.

DUPLASS: (As Chris, laughter).

FALCO: (As Carol) You're real.

MONDELLO: He's brought her a present.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OUTSIDE IN")

DUPLASS: (As Chris) So this is the first time I've ever done this, but I'm pretty proud of it.

MONDELLO: He shyly hands her a postcard-sized painting he did, a portrait.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OUTSIDE IN")

FALCO: (As Carol) Wow, that is so...

DUPLASS: (As Chris) The worst thing you've ever seen (laughter).

FALCO: (As Carol) No, wait. It has its own charm. I mean, this could only be me, right?

(LAUGHTER)

MONDELLO: Chris tells her to keep it because he no longer needs it. Now he can see her whenever he wants, which, for Carol, is a little complicated. She has a husband, a daughter who wasn't born when Chris went in, responsibilities.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OUTSIDE IN")

FALCO: (As Carol) Tom's probably waiting up for me.

DUPLASS: (As Chris) Yeah.

FALCO: (As Carol) And I have to work tomorrow.

DUPLASS: (As Chris) OK.

FALCO: (As Carol) So...

DUPLASS: (As Chris) OK.

FALCO: (As Carol) I'm going to take off.

DUPLASS: (As Chris) When can we hang out next?

FALCO: (As Carol) I'm - I don't know. We'll figure it out.

MONDELLO: Chris starts trying to readjust. Tooling around on the bike he rode as an 18-year-old, he has to relearn how to interact with kids on skateboards, with one-time pals who now have families. The film lets you see the teen in the adult, the one who didn't get a chance to grow up, the way others see him, including Carol's daughter, Hildy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OUTSIDE IN")

KAITLYN DEVER: (As Hildy) So did you get a job yet?

DUPLASS: (As Chris) Nope. People do not want to hire a murderer for some reason.

DEVER: (As Hildy) Don't say that. You're, like, the opposite of that. I mean, my mom said that...

MONDELLO: Hildy's mom is really the only person who sees Chris clearly. And as he senses her pulling back, he perhaps unwisely pushes.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OUTSIDE IN")

DUPLASS: (As Chris) You're just going to shut me out.

FALCO: (As Carol) No, no, I - no, I - we can be friends. Chris, I think we can be friends.

DUPLASS: (As Chris) We're not friends. You're the only person I can talk to. You're everything to me.

FALCO: (As Carol) That's too much pressure, Chris.

DUPLASS: (As Chris) Yeah, but...

FALCO: (As Carol) It's too much for me.

DUPLASS: (As Chris) You told me I'm the only one you can talk to.

FALCO: (As Carol) I have to fix that.

DUPLASS: (As Chris) Why?

FALCO: (As Carol) Because that's the problem. I have to save my marriage.

MONDELLO: Filmmaker Lynn Shelton specializes in placing characters in awkward-to-the-point-of-cataclysmic situations, then settling back and watching what they do. Her actors are always natural and unaffected. But in Edie Falco and Jay Duplass, the writer-director has interpreters who seem to breathe her characters - Duplass, who co-wrote the script, making Chris painfully vulnerable in his newfound freedom, Falco's eyes brimming as she looks at the man he's become and laments the prison she's made of her own life. Where can this end? It's easy to see what would happen in a mainstream Hollywood movie. Happily, "Outside In" is outside the mainstream. It doesn't go there at all. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.