In an alternate, perhaps more just universe, the career of deadpan comic Marc Maron might have been just a tad less quixotic.
But that Marc Maron might never have filmed the dopey, double-down deadpan “Sword of Trust,” a no budget farce filmed in Birmingham, Alabama. He might never have swapped testy banter with Michaela Watkins and Jillian Bell, or been upstaged by the hilarious Toby Huss.
He might never have starred on THE indie comedy of the summer.
“Sword” is an oddball deep dive into a Deep South that has gotten over some things, and not gotten over too many others. It’s about legacy, family, the responsibility of true love and the bitter aftertaste “The War of Northern Aggression” has left with a few too many “Duck Dynasty” types.
The characters feel real, the situations not that-far-fetched, and the dialogue has the halting, fresh-picked life of improvisation, a tribute to the script by “mumblecore” mistress Lynn Shelton, who also directed, and Michael Patrick O’Brien of “Saturday Night Live.”
No lie, it is laugh out loud funny.
Maron plays Mel, longtime proprietor of Delta Pawn. He seems honest, which in his profession, is half the battle.
“What, you gonna try and sell this yourself? They’re used,” he tells a customer pawning some fancy boots. “You need the money.”
“You’re not screwing me?” the guy wants to know.
“Not screwing you.”
Mel’s weathered, world-weary true colors come through via later visitors to the shop. There’s Deirdre (director/co-writer Shelton), a 40ish waif and “poet” who has “AA” written all over her, and of course needs money. They have history, but that isn’t going to sway Mel.
“Swear to God, I’m good for it.”
“You’re NOT good for it.”
“It’s not what you think.”
And then there’s Cynthia and Mary, who show up with a Civil War (“War of Northern Aggression”) sword.
It’s all Cynthia’s (Jillian Bell of “Office Christmas Party,” “The Night Before” and TV’s “Supermansion”) granddad left her. That, and a long, demented rambling letter and this odd certificate “authenticating” the sword.
It belonged to General Sherman. Or Sheridan. It was surrendered by said Union general at Chickamauga. Or Chickabogga. Something like that.
Mel’s lowball offer, “story, or no story,” won’t do, as Cynthia and Mary are sure it’s worth more, even if they’re not quite down the rabbit hole of the “true believers,” those “Invictusians” in search of the “truth” about how that war some Southerners will only call “The Late Unpleasantness” turned out.
A little Youtube searching by Mel’s otherwise-useless assistant (Jon Bass) convinces him that maybe he needs to up his offer.
“Is this ‘Antiques Road Show for Racists?'”
That leads to a very reluctant partnership. And that’s when good ol’boy Hog Jaw (Huss) shows up and drawls, cusses and struggles mightily against the redneck stereotype that he most certainly is. “Think I was born yesterday?” he says, hearing their “story,” wading through the BS as they inadvertently verify what he firmly believes is history’s attempt to “erode away the real truth” about The War.
That’s about all that’s quotable from Hog Jaw in a profanity-averse review. But suffice it to say, every F-bomb, menacing shrug and look of “You stupid Yankee” befuddlement, every smeared diphthong, or El Camino motor-revving that emanates from Hog Jaw’s ball-capped self is a hoot.
Mel’s “Let’s take these suckers for all they’ve got” strategy starts to seem more dangerous than any other transaction with bearded, belligerent rednecks he’s ever taken part in.
And the ladies? They’re a couple, and they insist on coming along to every drug-dealer styled “meet” the Invictusians and their Big Boss (Dan Bakkedahl ) ordain.
A hallmark of the “mumblecore” movement in indie cinema is the sparkling, quasi-improvised wit of the characters, mouthy “Comfy Chair” fans of “Humpday” (an earlier Shelton film) who talk and talk and talk, and amuse most every time they open their mouths.
Maron handles the style with ease, but Watkins is a damned virtuoso of bitchy banter, making us believe Mary, Cynthia’s life partner, is “not angry with you. You just sort of rub me the wrong way.”
The plot here is a means to an end, adding a layer of Southern social commentary to a comedy about a culture that’s filled with liars and frauds who prey not just on the gullible, the “willing to believe,” but on each other.
Maron, Watkins, Bell, Bakkedahl and especially Huss make everybody in this world as recognizable as that nutty neighbor or Flat Earth uncle we all know and roll our eyes at. And they let us laugh at them.
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout.
Cast: Marc Maron, Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Jon Bass
Credits: Directed by Lynn Shelton, script by Lynn Shelton and Michael Patrick O’Brien. An IFC release.
Running time: 1:29