SWORD OF TRUST
(director/writer: Lynn Shelton; screenwriter: Mike O’Brien; cinematographer: Jason Oldak; editor: Tyler L. Cook; music: Marc Maron; cast: Marc Maron (Mel), Jillian Bell (Cynthia), Michaela Watkins (Michaela Watkins), Jon Bass (Nathaniel), Toby Huss (Hog Jaws), Dan Bakkedahl (Kingpin), Tim Paul (Zeke), Whitmer Thomas (Jake), Lynn Shelton (Deirdre), Al Elliott (Jimmy); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Ted Speaker, Lynn Shelton; IFC Films; 2019)
“A messy but breezy low-key comedy about a sought-after confederate relic.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Indie director-writer Lynn Shelton (“Outside In”/”Your Sister’s Sister”) had her film premiere at SXSW. It’s a messy but breezy low-key comedy about a sought-after confederate relic. Mike O’Brien is the co-writer. Its political message preaches to the choir, as her Blue State viewers will probably take pleasure in laughing with her screwed-up liberal heroes at the expense of the mean-spirited Red State racists.
The lesbian couple of Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and her girlfriend, Mary (Michaela Watkins) are in Birmingham, Alabama, to get Cynthia’s inheritance. Her elderly deceased grandfather leaves her a sword (the ladies wished for a house that was taken by the bank). The heirloom is a Civil War artifact saber belonging to an undisclosed Union general who surrendered it to the Confederate Army. They try to sell it to the local pawn shop owner Mel (Marc Maron, who also wrote and performed the music), but he doesn’t want it. Mel’s dim assistant Nathaniel (Jon Bass), a YouTube follower and flat-earther, discovers online that the weapon has value as one of those “prover items.” The sword supposedly proves the South actually won the war, and there’s a black market for it because there are certain people willing to pay a lot for such an item. Mel now reconsiders and joins the other three in trying to sell it. The misfit foursome during the sale, find themselves involved with the likes of conspiracy theorists, neo-Confederates, historical revisionists and an assortment of racists.
There’s a scene where a pair of frightening white supremacists storm into the shop and try to steal it. A following scene that has Mary, Cynthia, Mel, and Nathaniel thrown in the back of a truck by a monster called Hog Jaws (Toby Huss), who brings them to face the terrifying Confederate collector known as the Tennessee Kingpin (Dan Bakkedahl).
When it sticks to its improv-enriched comedy narrative the film is fine, but when it throws in all kinds of hi-jinks involving the sale of the sword, the film loses me in its absurdity and lack of depth.
It plays out as a mild satire on the relevancy of “heritage,” as the story skips along with sketches like of the curmudgeon, neurotic Mel’s skittish relationship with the poetess Deidre (Lynn Shelton, the director), a former substance abuser.
It’s a missed opportunity film, one that settles for a few freaky funny moments and no more.The joyful ensemble cast seem to be getting a kick out of the story that takes some healthy swipes at the MAGA-like villains and tries showing us in its ridiculous plot the divide in culture still facing a troubled America. But it missed a serious opportunity to tell us why in the last election so many of the deplorables came out of the woodwork to be Trump supporters and blindly follow his insane racist lead.
REVIEWED ON 7/18/2019 GRADE: B-