Welcome Home, Stranger (Film Review: “Outside In”)

outsideinPOSTER

When a 38 year old man returns to his small town in Washington state after a 20 year incarceration for a crime he didn’t commit, he struggles to find his place in a world that has moved on without him. Complicating his situation is the deep connection with his former high school teacher who dedicated her life to setting him free.

 

SnapShot Plot

Outside In, the latest in a string of highly regarded films by the brothers Mark and Jay Duplass (their directorial, writing and producing credits too massive to list) has just dropped on Netflix. It’s among the films in a 4-picture deal with the streaming service, and it doesn’t disappoint, although it’s the kind of feelgood movie that in fact doesn’t feel good, in the conventional sense of the word.

Jay Duplass, in the most understated performance imaginable, plays Chris, a guy who was wrongly convicted for a lethal felony at age 18 and sent away for good. Family and friends fell by the wayside and if not for the personal salvage mission waged by his high school teacher, Carol (in a luminous performance by the great Edie Falco), he’d be rotting there still. The movie opens with Chris’s homecoming. The palpable anxiety he feels is overwhelming as he finds himself adrift with nothing anchoring him in place. Nobody can begin to understand his conflicting feelings of elation and sadness – for his newfound freedom as well as the years and the youth that he’s lost – except for Carol. Falco (unsurprisingly) completely embodies the character of Carol, a middle-aged woman with a sullen teenaged daughter (in a fine performance by Kaitlyn Dever) and a husband who’s become a stranger in the house. It’s evident that in her quest to seek justice for Chris, she’s virtually abandoned her own family for 20 years, although the film justly leaves the moral equation and its causality for us to imagine ourselves. In small yet vividly portrayed moments, with dialogue that’s so naturalistic at times it sounds pedestrian, we watch (in mounting discomfort) as Chris and Carol’s dance around each other becomes more fraught with emotional and sexual danger. At the same time, Carol’s daughter, Hildy finds herself drawn to Chris, which of course carries with it an even more complicated scenario, suggesting triangles of inappropriateness galore. How can this homecoming spell anything but trouble?

 

 

Parting Shot

Directed by Lynn Shelton from a script by Shelton and lead actor, Jay Duplass, Outside In dares to examine the relationships we don’t choose for ourselves but instead seem to choose us. I’m reminded of another Duplass Brothers film which Shelton directed, this time starring Mark Duplass, Your Sister’s Sister, which also featured an uncomfortable triangle but never once lost respect for its characters. Such is the case here, as we witness good people from whom much has been taken, who are grappling with the moral obligation of family over happiness, while at the same time trying to sort between what’s real in the moment vs. what’s real for the long term.

There are two early – wordless – film sequences which encapsulate the jarring emotional tug-of-war inherent in Outside In. The first is the opening scene in which Chris is in the passenger seat of the car while his brother drives him home direct from prison. He’s eating french fries while gazing out the window at the trees swirling past, and he stops chewing for a moment, closes his eyes with his face turned to the sky, and a small smile forms at his lips. It’s a short moment which feels like a prayer of joyful gratitude. The next sequence, early in the film, has Chris tooling around town on his boyhood bicycle, clumsy at first, clearly too big for the bike. Soon, though, he falls into his childhood pedaling motion, eventually winding up at the playground where he hangs out with the kids for awhile, seemingly one of them. In these two sequences, we seamlessly absorb the sense of euphoria for his newfound life married to the abject disconnect this character feels for everything he once knew and the place he once called home. Where and what is belonging, after all, and can we ever really go home again?

Outside In is presently streaming on Netflix.

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YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0SdJfplC80

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