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D: Lynn Shelton / 109m

Cast: Edie Falco, Jay Duplass, Kaitlyn Dever, Ben Schwartz, Charles Leggett, Eryn Rea, Matt Molloy, Pamela Reed

After spending the last twenty years in prison for murder, Chris (Duplass) is paroled and returns to his home town of Granite Falls. At a surprise party given by his brother, Ted (Schwartz), Chris reunites with Carol (Falco), one of his high school teachers and the person whose efforts have helped gain his release. Later, Carol begins to realise that Chris has a crush on her, something that is confirmed when he kisses her outside her home and declares his love for her. Carol insists they can only be friends, but even that proves difficult, as when he and Carol do begin to spend time together, it’s in the company of Carol’s teenage daughter, Hildy (Dever). While Carol does her best to put some distance between them, Hildy becomes interested in Chris and begins to hang out with him. But though he and Hildy get on, Chris still hopes to be with Carol, and convinces her to spend the day with him as a kind of final, one off experience that would allow him to move on. But while the day goes better than they could have hoped for, the following day sees things begin to go badly wrong…

Featuring an original screenplay by director Shelton and star Duplass, Outside In is a subtle, elegantly paced drama that explores the emotional vicissitudes of two people whose close bond has been developed over years in which they have only been able to exchange their ideas and feelings through letters. How much longing would build up over all that time, the movie asks, and how would someone deal with the inevitable pressure of expectation that would bring? Well, for Chris it’s easy: he blurts out his feelings as if it were the simplest thing in the world to do. But for Carol, the pressure she feels is different. Married – though to an indifferent husband (Leggett) – and with a daughter who is trying to deal with her own issues, Carol’s feelings for Chris are tempered by responsibility and their inappropriate nature. While Chris persists in his attentions, Carol feels the weight of her own expectations slowly eroding her will to say no. And though there are no prizes for guessing how things will turn out on their day together, Shelton and Duplass’s sympathetic and revealing screenplay ensures that what follows isn’t as easily deciphered.

The movie is anchored by two terrific central performances. Falco offers a quietly devastating portrayal of a middle-aged woman who is only now beginning to realise just how much she’s settled for in her life. As she struggles with her feelings for Chris, Carol’s inner torment is perfectly expressed by Falco, and the depth of her feelings, and the crisis it’s causing her is beautifully rendered. Just as good, but in a different fashion, Duplass plays Chris as a thirty-eight year old man suffering from arrested development, still the eighteen year old he was when he went to jail, and still viewing much of life through the eyes of a teenager. That he’s not fully aware of this should be tragic, but Chris is so good-natured and kind that it counts almost as a blessing, and Duplass uses the character’s naïvete to good effect. This is a movie that is decisive and impactful in equal measure, and in service to a story that builds momentum while avoiding many of the clichés that you might expect from yet another “small-town story”. Shelton has made perhaps her best movie yet, and the whole thing is given a further boost thanks to a lovely, wistful, engaging soundtrack courtesy of Andrew Bird.

Rating: 8/10 – full of quiet, tender moments that carry an unexpected emotional wallop, Outside In is a beautifully crafted and shot movie (by Nathan M. Miller) that takes its time in developing both the main storyline and the inner lives of its two central characters; a movie about hope and longing, and how there are many, different kinds of imprisonment, the latest from the prolific Duplass brothers reconfirms that when it comes to small scale indie dramas, they’re still in a league of their own.