Only a skilled writer-director can dig into the everyday mundanities and create a fascinating story about strangers coming together. Co-writer and director Lynn Shelton (the script was co-written Mike O’Brien) is a filmmaker with that particular gift. Her latest, “Sword of Trust,” offers enough heart and charm to make an audience want to go on a journey with the characters she and O’Brien have created.
Marc Maron stars as Mel, who owns a pawn shop and spends his days haggling with customers. He is visited by Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and Mary (Michaela Watkins), who have just inherited a Civil War-era sword from Cynthia’s grandfather. The sword was left with documentation and paperwork, including a lengthy handwritten story from Cynthia’s grandfather. In it, the letter suggests the South may have won the war. The story seems preposterous but Mel is intrigued and he offers them $400 for the sword. An argument ensues over the price but eventually, they agree to try and sell the relic for a small fortune and split the profits. Mel, Cynthia, Mary and Mel’s employee Nathaniel (Jon Bass) team up together to deliver the sword to the potential buyer.
What’s wonderful about Shelton’s work is her ability to take ordinary people and throw us into their lives and create genuine investment. The quartet at the center of “Sword of Trust” isn’t particularly interesting people but we want to see them through on their goal. Their decision to sell the sword, on the surface, is about money but there’s an undercurrent of something else in the script. They are clearly looking for an adventure, a way to spice up the ennui and the sword is a perfect opportunity to do so.
Maron, known primarily for comedy and his wildly popular “WTF?” podcast, offers great performance at the heart of the movie. He infuses Mel with an authentic world-weariness and we get to know a bit more about his life and relationships. Bell recently won raves out of Sundance for the upcoming “Brittany Runs a Marathon” and offers another side to her persona, distancing herself from the scene-stealing comedic work she has done in the past. Watkins is always reliable and delivers every line with a punch, which she brings to every performance.
“Sword of Trust” starts to spin its wheels in the final act, escalating the purchasing of the sword to sitcom territory it didn’t really need to go to. The movie, like all of Shelton’s work, is strongest when it’s focusing on specific individual moments between the characters. In particular, Maron delivers a monologue, which makes the movie sing. It’s not one of her strongest efforts (2011’s “Your Sister’s Sister” claims that title) but “Sword of Trust” is still a fine example of a wonderful filmmaker.