Jillian Bell as “Cynthia”, Michaela Watkins as “Mary”, Marc Maron as “Mel” and Jon Bass as “Nathaniel” in Lynn Shelton’s SWORD OF TRUST. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.
We all have a story inside us. Lynn Shelton knows. She also knows that we want to tell our story, and we don’t need a ton of space or an encouraging audience begging to hear more. Give anyone just enough room, and they’ll tell you everything.
It’s a simple conclusion, but Shelton works it better than most. Her previous films, Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister, are pitch-perfect examples of how to make a lot out of a little. They are simple, honest, and funny. And her latest as writer/director, Sword of Trust, is all of that and less because, in these movies, less isn’t more; it’s just what you want.
The story: Cynthia (Jillian Bell) has just lost her grandfather, a man who spent everything in his twilight years of health care and can only bequeath an antique sword to his only granddaughter. The sword is a relic from the Civil War, from the Union specifically, and comes with a convoluted tale of half-truths and contradictions that just so happens to intersect with a vast internet conspiracy. As another character calls it, the sword is “Antiques Roadshow for racists.”
He is Mel (Marc Maron), the owner of the Birmingham, Alabama pawn shop Cynthia and her partner, Mary (Michaela Watkins), tries to unload the sword. Mel isn’t buying their malarkey, but his dim-witted employee Nathaniel (Jon Bass) is. Nathaniel more than dabbles in conspiracy theories and he finds a buyer who might pay $50,000 for the sword. Mel has a change of heart, and Cynthia and Mary nominate themselves as equal partners in a shady, but far from sinister, transaction.
Sword of Trust is funny. Laugh out loud so, but not because each joke is perfectly scripted with a beginning, middle, and end, but because people are naturally funny when presented with unnatural scenarios. The beauty of Shelton’s direction is that she allows each character space to deliver the punch line without stepping on or rushing it.
You grow to love these characters. Even Confederate conspiracist foot soldier, Hog Jaws (Toby Huss), lands a couple of chortlers. As the movie ends, you wonder what is next for Mel, Nathaniel, Cynthia, and Mary. But as Mel silently wanders out of frame, you realize: You’ve seen everything you need to. No stone has been left unturned; the story is done. Even better, a measure of truth has been revealed along the way. What more could you ask for?
Sword of Trust
Written and directed by Lynn Shelton
Produced by Lynn Shelton and Ted Speaker
Starring: Marc Maron, Jon Bass, Michaela Watkins, Jillian Bell, Toby Huss, Dan Bakkedahl, Timothy Paul, Whitmer Thomas, Al Elliott
IFC Films, Running time 88 minutes, Rated R, Opens July 26, 2019.