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OUTSIDE IN: The Human Spirit Confined

Bolstered by the quiet compassion that has always been her strong suit, Lynn Shelton has turned in another stunning independent feature with Outside In that no one who enjoys the quieter side of life should miss.

OUTSIDE IN: The Human Spirit Confined

Written and directed by Lynn SheltonOutside In is the latest in a long line of exquisite character studies. Following her work on the star-studded comedy Laggies from 2014, Shelton returns to a more subdued thematic palate that brought her such initial successes as Humpday in 2009 and Your Sister’s Sister in 2011. Co-written with the film’s star and executive producer Jay DuplassOutside In examines another relationship between two people who are arbitrarily barred from expressing the full range of their feelings for one another due to the pressures of social conventions.

As an ex-con in his late 30’s, Duplass‘s Chris pines after Edie Falco‘s Carol, a high school English teacher and part-time counselor who helped secure Chris’ early release from prison. But after suffering a severe injustice for a crime that he didn’t commit, Chris (Duplass) is greeted by a cold world that doesn’t appear especially eager to welcome him back into the fold of mainstream society.

To make matters worse, his time spent in prison has severely stunted has emotional growth as an adult. As a result, he immediately finds himself wandering the lush, verdant atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest without a job and without much hope for finding a way back onto his feet. Having been robbed the aimless years usually reserved for anyone in their 20’s, Chris reenters society in Outside In in a sort of purgatory that he miraculously discovers hosts more than a few strange bedfellows and acquaintances.

Adults In Revolt

Like any number of previous feature length movies from Lynn SheltonOutside In presents the adult world as one roiling with an undercurrent of subversive discontentment. With Carol (Falco), viewers find themselves welcomed into a nuclear unit that has long since forgotten how to love and communicate with one another. Estranged from her husband (Charles Leggett) and her teenage daughter Hildy (Kaitlyn Dever) due to years of intense work and care for Chris during his incarceration, Carol find herself struggling to tread water in a sea of shifting obligations and desires.

OUTSIDE IN: The Human Spirit Confined

source: The Orchard

As for Chris (Duplass), life on the outside is just as troubling. Forced to live in an acrimonious household with his brother Ted (Ben Schwartz), the ex-con soon discovers that all of his friends from high school have long since grown up and largely forgotten about him. In several sequences, Chris careens around the drizzly terrain of Washington while mounted atop an old BMX bicycle that comically serves as a constant reminder of his lost adolescence.

Watching Chris apply for job opening after job opening after job opening, only to be rejected each and every time due to his criminal history, is both disheartening and mundane, revealing a reality in Outside In that doesn’t bear much difference from the life of confinement he so recently escaped. Likewise, Carol struggles to find satisfaction in her work, and begins to realize that helping wrongfully imprisoned convicts seek a second chance brought her more satisfaction than her personal relationships with either her husband or Chris.

And in the middle of it all is Hildy (Kaitlyn Dever), an artistic, tender soul who welcomes Chris with open arms into her world of teenage boredom and isolation. The degree to which Chris and Hildy begin to enjoy one another’s company is refreshingly playful, as it reveals the chaste innocence that the two characters are fully aware they are about to lose indefinitely to the harsh realities of the outside world, no matter how much they might prefer to remain inside.

Starting Over

By the end of the film’s trim 109-minute runtime, Shelton leaves her characters with the surprising degree of contentment that can only come with a full acceptance of the inevitable shortcomings of life. Determined to take on more counseling assignments as part of a full-time vocation, Carol leaves her husband and Chris in order to find her true self.

OUTSIDE IN: The Human Spirit Confined

source: The Orchard

And after their solitary night together in carnal bliss, Chris is also granted the clarity to put his past behind him and chart a new course towards a sustainable and happy future. Much like the lyrical lilt provided to the film by an original Andrew Bird musical score, Outside In embraces the vagaries of adulthood as a journey whose destination resides within.

The outside world of Outside In is peopled by weary travelers, yet its heroes are among the happy few who somehow manage to find their way back home. Chris may have lost an irretrievable 20 years of his young adulthood, but his future is dotted with the promise of sunshine just beginning to break through the clouds of more than a few rainy days.

Much like the moody sculptures created and curated in the film proper by Hildy (Dever), there is beauty hiding in between the shadows of Outside In waiting to burst out in a bright ray of light and be seen despite its illusive nature. And once that beauty is found, the rewards are numerous and plentiful, especially after spending so much time in the dark.

Outside In: Conclusion

Lynn Shelton finds some kind of peace and harmony among the disaffected, which proves to be the case once again with Outside In. And perhaps more so than with any of her previous theatrical efforts, her latest feature length endeavor examines the human soul in confinement, literally and metaphorically. Chris (Duplass) and Carol (Falco) shine as the film’s unconventional couple, as the film weaves its way out of sober depression and into eager ambition.

Bolstered by the quiet compassion that has always been her strong suit, Shelton has turned in another stunning independent feature that no one who enjoys the quieter side of life should miss.

Do you intend on seeing Outside In? If so, are there any other Lynn Shelton movies that you  would consider to be among your favorites?

Outside In received a limited theatrical release in the U.S. on March 30, 2018, and is currently available to rent online. Find international release dates here


Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

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English Major, Film Buff, and Citizen of the World, Sean K. Cureton is a born and raised Jersey Boy. Having received a B.A. in English from Rutgers University, Sean is proud to call the Garden State his home, equidistant from both the steps that made Sylvester Stallone a household name, and the park where Harry was cordially introduced to Sally, even if he’d prefer to a stay in state due to a certain fondness for a convenience store located in Leonardo, NJ. When he’s not in the multiplex, you can follow him on Twitter, @seankcureton.