[Outside In]

Already one of my favorites of the year, Outside In is a beautiful film about a man returning home after serving 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and his relationships with those who were or were not there for him when he was behind bars.

My favorite shot comes right at the start, as Chris (Jay Duplass, co-writer) looks around the room of people who have gathered to welcome him home. The camera finds Edie Falco’s Carol holding herself back, hiding behind the family and friends she thinks have more right to him. As she’s pulled neatly into focus, you can see all the joy and fear pouring out of her. She’s my best actress so far this year, and this performance will be hard to top.

Of course Edie Falco is always a joy to watch, but also she’s been given a gift in this role, the bones of which men get all the time: an arc where through the love of a younger person she discovers what she wants and takes control of her life. Big beautiful life changes happen all the time in the world for older women, but so rarely on film.

Also rare on film: the world of Outside In. Granite Falls isn’t where I grew up, but it feels close. It’s north of Seattle, whereas I grew up in South King, & the families are a little poorer, but not much. Which is to say that I know that world, and I don’t see it portrayed often, that world with the peeling linoleum, the bathroom constantly under construction, everything green and beautiful outside, but also there’s a moss-covered truck canopy laying in the yard. It’s lived-in in a distinctly Pacific Northwest way.

I felt a particular connection to the film because I’m only a year or two older than Chris, and his relationship to technology rang true in a way precise to that time. We’re in the Oregon Trail Generation; an age group that grew up analog but was young enough to adapt to digital quickly. But Chris was 18 when he went to prison, so he can type up a resume but is fuzzy on how to print, he’s baffled by texting culture, and among the possessions his brother saves for him is a case of cassettes, with the tapes Saran-wrapped into place. It’s a perfect detail – I remember cases like that mounted on the walls of my cousin’s bedroom – and it brought home to me in a personal, concrete way the number of lives I’ve lived in that 20 years.

Outside In checks these surprising personal boxes, but is also an engaging, moving, emotional film about finding grace, scored by the great Andrew Bird.

One note on race: given the statistics on incarceration, I have to mention that this is the story of guy easy for white liberal art-house audiences to root for. Jay Duplass is charming and his character is innocent. The film tells a story of a guy with privileges – Chris is a white man with an (impoverished, imperfect, but existent) support network – and he’s still set up to fail when he leaves the system. He struggles to find work, and his parole officer is always hovering in the back of his mind.

That’s a story worth telling, but we need to be clear it’s far from the only story.

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