Some people will believe anything, and there are always people ready to take advantage of those people — which a depressingly timely message for director Lynn Shelton to tuck into the semi-improvised comedy “Sword of Trust.”
Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and Mary (Michaela Watkins) are a loving couple who have ventured down to Birmingham, Ala., to tie up the affairs of Cynthia’s recently deceased grandpappy. The old man’s house belongs to the bank, because of a reverse mortgage to cover his medical bills, but he did leave Cynthia with a family heirloom: A Union officer’s sword from the 1860s, some documents, and a rambling letter explaining that the sword is proof that the South really won the Civil War.
Cynthia and Mary decide to sell the sword, and take it to a pawn shop owned by Mel (Marc Maron), a jaded New Mexico transplant who spends most of the store’s hours berating his slightly dim employee, Nathaniel (Jon Bass). Mel offers $400 cash for the sword, which the ladies turn down.
After doing some research online, Mel discovers a bottomless pit of conspiracy theorists who actually believe the South won the Civil War. What’s more, they’ll pay a ton of money for any physical evidence to support that bogus claim. Soon, Mel and Nathaniel are partnering with Cynthia and Mary to broker a bigger deal for the sword.
Shelton is a pro at this kind of conversation-driven comedy; look at “Humpday” and “Your Sister’s Sister” as past examples. Here, the script she and Mike O’Brien (formerly of “Saturday Night Live”) have written is a framework for the actors to improvise — and with comic talents like Maron, Bell and Watkins (another “SNL” alum) at work, that dialogue is loose, funny and sometimes touching.
Shelton’s ace-in-the-hole is Maron, who invests plenty of pathos in Mel’s backstory — a drug-addicted past, and a damaged ex-girlfriend, played by Shelton herself — for a performance that’s wry, sardonic and quietly heartbreaking. Within the comic grace notes of “Sword of Trust,” it’s Maron who cuts the deepest.
‘Sword of Trust’
Opened July 19 in select cities; opens Friday, July 26, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake City). Rated R for language throughout. Running time: 89 minutes.