By focusing on Seattle and expensive retreats like the San Juan Islands, Lynn Shelton’s movies—like 2009’s Humpday, 2013’s Touchy Feely, and 2014’s Laggies—capture a particular cross-section of the Pacific Northwest. Maybe because I grew up in it, I love it—but it ignores the expansive gloominess and washed-up beauty of rural and suburban Washington. That’s a shame, because they’re as much a part of the state as Seattle, a city increasingly dominated by such misfortunes as Jeff Bezos’s inexplicable glass testicles.
So I was pleasantly surprised by Shelton’s latest, Outside In, filmed in suburban Granite Falls and Snohomish County—locales that are Bezos-free (for now) and captured in all their rainy, tree-sheltered, moss-flecked glory. The subject matter, too, is more urgent than Shelton’s usual fare: Outside In focuses on a subtext-heavy friendship between a high-school teacher, Carol (Edie Falco), and Chris (Jay Duplass), the 38-year-old former student she helped parole from the Walla Walla State Penitentiary after a 20-year sentence.
As Chris, Duplass does some remarkable work with only his eyes and smile, under a beard so patchy, its mere existence triggers inscrutable sadness. Falco is great, per usual, as a conflicted, tightly wound woman in an Edith Wharton-grade bad marriage. And Outside In isn’t actually that far from a Wharton novel: It’s a completely believable web of conflicting desires among people who lack the language and wherewithal to ask for what they want. But stick with it, and Outside In’s relentless sadness gives way to something more gently hopeful than its numb beginning implies.
Outside In wasn’t filmed in Seattle, but it reminds me of the Seattle I grew up in, a city that felt forgotten by the rest of the country, dominated not by start-ups but by blue-collar industries like logging, fishing, and airplane manufacturing. I miss that place. I always will. But Shelton’s new film feels like home.