Writer/director Lynn Shelton specializes in so-called “slice of life” films. While some of her movies, which have included Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister, and Touchy Feely, feature traditional plots, they all generally meander their way to their conclusions, unconcerned with getting to the point quickly the way that mainstream movies do.
That’s certainly the case with her new film Sword of Trust, which has a simple premise that she somehow stretches out into a feature length story. Mel (Marc Maron) is a pawn shop owner used to hearing tall tales about the items he’s asked to buy. Mary (Michaela Watkins) and Cynthia (Jillian Bell), a couple who inherit a Civil War-era sword, come to Mel with one of the most dubious backstories he’s ever heard.
While they don’t necessarily believe everything they’re telling him, Mel discovers an online collector (Dan Bakkedahl) who will pay enormous amounts for relics just like theirs. The three join forces to try to sell the sword to the collector, a venture that requires they get out of their own way to accomplish.
Shelton and co-writer Mike O’Brien give their stars wide latitude to fill in the spaces of dialogue in their script. While it would be incorrect to say the film is improvised, it often feels that way as the main trio, all of whom are accomplished comic actors, put their unique touch on the lines. None of it is fall-out-of-your-seat hilarious, but there’s an unmistakable feeling of fun in the air throughout.
The film offers other types of pleasure, as well, especially in elements that it doesn’t explore fully. Mel’s co-worker, Nathaniel (Jon Bass), is a goofy simpleton who may actually have more to offer than what’s on the surface. A side story with Mel and a woman named Deidre (Shelton) pays dramatic dividends with just a few somewhat mysterious scenes.
There are other times, however, where the film could have used a bit more oomph, especially toward the end. Traditional storytelling dictates a more satisfying resolution than the one delivered by this film. It’s not that it’s a bad ending, per se, just one that makes the whole film feel like a tease of sorts.
After lingering for years on the outskirts of stardom, Maron has turned into a go-to actor in his fifties. Just as he does on Netflix’s GLOW, he uses his natural curmudgeonly demeanor to produce great results. Watkins plays high-strung in an entertaining way, while Bell gets to play against type as a woman who’s unsure what she wants.
Sword of Trust is far from a mainstream film, making it not everyone’s cup of tea. But for those willing to exercise a little patience, it has the type of performances and scenarios that make it well worth your while.