Movie Review: Ex-con starts over and sees life “Outside In”

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“Outside In” is a quiet, contemplative melodrama about starting over and the obstacles facing an ex-con fresh out of a 20 year stretch in prison.

The script that director Lynn Shelton (“Humpday,” “Your Sister’s Sister”) co-wrote with her fellow “mumblecore” icon Jay Duplass (“Jeff Who Lives at Home,” “The Puffy Chair”) has secrets and surprises, layers that peel away as we follow that ex-con and wonder why so many people are so welcoming when he comes back home.

Chris, played by Duplass, is sheepish when his younger brother (Ben Schwartz) drives him back into Granite Falls, Washington. There’s a surprise “Welcome Home” party.

“People have been waiting 20 years for this,” Ted tells him. “Suck it up and receive the love.”

Among those waiting for him is the woman who got him out. Carol, played by Edie Falco, is his former high school teacher, a woman who made his case her cause. Her digging got him out. Her communications, when his family and others turned their backs, gave him hope and kept him going.

Chris is grateful, but much more. He’s so touched, so nervous around her that we can wonder if there wasn’t something going on between them before that felony conviction.

The fact that she’s got a husband (Charles Leggett) and teenage daughter (Kaitlyn Dever) doesn’t deter him. He’s in love. He must be with her.

The husband is leery and a little sarcastic upon meeting his Carol’s “project.”

“Maybe now I can get my wife back.”

But the teen daughter, Hildy, is curious, sympathetic and perhaps a little too eager to keep company with a 40 year-old ex-con whom she’s only known from her mom’s research into his life and crime.

Duplass is better known as a writer/director than actor. Mark Duplass (“Safety Not Guaranteed”) is the “acting” Duplass brother. But Jay, who was in TV’s “Search Party,” “The Mindy Project” and “Transparent,” gives Chris a kind of lost quality the belies the horrors of what he must have endured in stir in Walla Walla.

He aimlessly checks back into a mothballed life, riding the ancient BMX bike gathering dust in the family garage, taking his first jumps with a kid less than one-third his age because that’s what feels normal.

The great Falco (“Transamerica,””Nurse Jackie”) suggests a woman good at keeping secrets, straining to keep the younger man at arm’s length, burying the longing that a dull marriage has built up.

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And Dever, of TV’s “Last Man Standing” and last summer’s “Detroit,” beautifully mimics Falco’s air of mystery, a not-quite-sullen teen who is distancing herself from her unhappy parents, at a loss for finding somebody to talk to about them or about herself in this tiny, rainy, fog-shrouded town.

I’m sticking with my opening label of “melodrama” for this, as events transpire that rather archly heighten the drama even if they’re conventional tropes of forbidden love romances. But Shelton and Duplass cook up twists to each of these predictable turns that their story takes.

And thoughtful performances render this intimate drama a rewarding and engrossing look into life after prison, and a mystery well worth waiting for its unraveling.

MPAA Rating: unrated, with sexual situations, alcohol abuse and profanity

Cast: Jay Duplass, Edie Falco, Kaitlyn Dever

Credits:Directed by Lynn Shelton, script by Lynn Shelton and Jay Duplass. An Orchard release.

Running time: 1:31

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