During a recent interview, Sword of Trust co-writer / director Lynn Shelton said: “I really wanted to make a movie that allowed you to feel validated that you may not be the only person on Earth who is feeling troubled by what’s going on.”
In that spirit, Trust is a gentle human comedy about finding sincerity in this post-truth society.
The film unites a world-weary loner named Mel (Marc Maron) with two far more optimistic women, Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and Mary (Michaela Watkins). The couple comes into his Birmingham pawn shop bearing a strange gift from Cynthia’s grandfather — a Union Army sword that proves the South actually won the Civil War.
When Mel and his assistant, Nathaniel (Jon Bass), discover a deep web market of Civil War truthers hungry for this sort of item, they join forces with the ladies to take the redneck collectors for everything they have.
With Cynthia and Mary being gay and Mel being Jewish, they also try to keep their identities in check in order to win over the bigots bidding for the sword.
Sword of Trust is a perfect movie for the moment, as it revolves around vulnerable people navigating a world steeped in conspiracy theories and contentious conjecture.
A key member of the mumblecore movement, Shelton brings the same intimate style of that genre here, making you feel as though you’re eavesdropping on the characters. The film has a you-are-there immediacy that fills you with a moment-to-moment sense of discovery. And everyone in the ensemble has natural, compelling chemistry.
Shelton previously directed Maron on his self-titled IFC series as well as Netflix’s GLOW. She has said Maron served as her muse for this film, and her approach to it definitely evokes the vibe of his podcast, WTF with Marc Maron. Trust is grounded, raw and relatable, sweeping us away with the simple magic of people connecting. A scene near the end of the film feels like the kind of confessional moment Maron stirs up so seamlessly behind the mic in his garage studio.
As the quartet of con artists rides in the back of a truck heading toward the home of their mysterious buyer, everyone reveals what led them to this point. Cynthia and Mary talk about how their tense working relationship turned into a tender romance. Then Mel opens up about the rocky road he took to become a pawn shop owner. He digs through his dirty past and explains how love and drugs dashed his dreams of musical stardom.
While he successfully hopped on the wagon, Mel’s girlfriend, Deirdre (Shelton), still struggles to shake the monkey off her back. Here, Shelton subverts the trope of women serving as saviors for addicted men who come crawling back to them as if they are checking into rehab. She allows Deirdre to be vulnerable and expose her imperfections.
Deirdre and Mel’s scarred past is the kind of story that unfolds every week on WTF, which I’ve been listening to religiously for the past three years. I’m always surprised to hear Maron bring his larger-than-life guests down to earth and pry open their A-list armor. As Mel does on the truck, these real people reflect on the sharp pain that carved out their current path.
This podcast also puts me in a zen-like state. So whenever I’m consumed by anxiety and fixated on the future, hearing of the guests’ humble beginnings and present problems gives me hope and makes me feel like I’m not alone.
At one point in Trust, Mel talks about the thrill of getting up close and personal with people who seem like mysteries. That’s precisely what Maron’s podcast provides. Would you have guessed that Rob McElhenney was a broke junkie working on a dark crime drama with Paul Schrader before he created It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? Or that Jane Lynch struggled with alcohol and cold medicine abuse?
Maron has 20 years of sobriety under his belt. His transparency about it clearly inspires his guests to open their wounds as well. He also draws upon his past in his poignant performance as Mel; his monologue in the truck is one of the year’s most powerful pieces of acting.
At this point, Maron feels like a friend of mine. He’s part of my daily life. Therefore, I was bound to love this movie. I watched it with my girlfriend the day one of our cats died. (Maron, whose Twitter bio describes him as a “feral cat wrangler,” would’ve liked the neurotic little guy. His name was Larry David.) Like his podcast, Trust lifted my spirits.
Thank you, Lynn and Marc, for making a film I’ll be turning to for comfort again and again.
Sword of Trust is now playing at Indy’s Keystone Art Cinema and is available on VOD services.