From left, Mary (Michaela Watkins), Cynthia (Jillian Bell), Nathaniel (Jon Bass) and Mel (Marc Maron) are trying to sell a valuable artifact of the Confederacy in “Sword of Trust.” (IFC)

From left, Mary (Michaela Watkins), Cynthia (Jillian Bell), Nathaniel (Jon Bass) and Mel (Marc Maron) are trying to sell a valuable artifact of the Confederacy in “Sword of Trust.” (IFC)

Laid-back ‘Sword of Trust’ could have been a sharper satire

Seattle’s Lynn Shelton goes South for a funny but too-low-key comedy about Confederate dunderheads.

The capacity for regular ol’ Americans to believe in deep-fried baloney is surely one of the great subjects of our glorious era. Lynn Shelton’s “Sword of Trust” flirts with this idea, in a disarmingly casual way.

Although she generally makes her movies (including “My Sister’s Sister” and “Touchy Feely”) within hailing distance of Puget Sound, Seattle native Shelton travels far afield for this one. Birmingham, Alabama, to be precise.

Here sits a pawnshop. Its owner, Mel, is sardonic, pragmatic and just barely tolerating all this. The role fits like a glove for the comedian (and celebrated podcast host) Marc Maron, who brings a splendidly rumpled humanity to his role.

Mel spends his days pricing items, jawboning with locals and enduring the internet-based conspiracy theories of his assistant, Nathaniel (Jon Bass). We sense that Mel is accustomed to dealing with nutbars.

So when two out-of-towners arrive at the shop, bearing a Confederate Army sword that allegedly proves the South actually won the Civil War, Mel takes it in stride. The visitors are Cynthia (Jillian Bell, from “Workaholics”), who inherited the sword from her grandfather, and her partner Mary (the wickedly precise Michaela Watkins).

Joining forces to find the market for such an artifact, this quartet stumbles into the netherworld of folks who carry on the dream of the Confederacy. That world is pitched somewhere between a fan convention and the Ku Klux Klan, and provides solid comedy along with a few moments of menace.

Shelton wrote the script with Mike O’Brien (the unsettling pizza guy in “Booksmart”), but a good chunk of the film — in Shelton’s customary style — was improvised by the actors. I assume this includes one of the movie’s best scenes, a not-so-funny encounter between Mel and his self-destructive ex, played by Shelton herself.

Bell and Watkins are accomplished comedy players, and the unfussy rapport they create seems very much in tune with Shelton’s gentle style. If anything “Sword of Trust” is so humane and low-key, it side-steps ripe possibilities for satire.

In the late going, some of those satirical notes are hit, thanks to the arrival of a potential sword-buyer (Dan Bakkedahl, from “Veep”). He comes across more like the smooth-talking pastor of a megachurch than a diehard Confederate crackpot; the latter duties are filled by his flunky, a true believer named Hog Jaws (Toby Huss).

Huss is one of those great character actors who always bring 150 percent to any role, no matter how small. When he bustles in to “Sword of Trust,” he gives the movie a needed charge, a jolt of electricity in the otherwise easy-going atmosphere.

The film’s laidback vibe doesn’t allow for a sharper satirical thrust, even if the subject matter is all but begging for it. Those soft edges keep this genial film from really taking off.

“Sword of Trust” (3 stars)

Marc Maron brings splendidly rumpled humanity to his role as a Birmingham pawnshop owner drawn into a daffy bidding war for a sword that allegedly proves the South won the Civil War. Lynn Shelton’s partly improvised comedy boasts a good cast and some funny moments, although its low-key vibe lacks the sharper satirical thrust that might’ve made it really take off.

Rating: R, for language

Friday Opening: SIFF Uptown

Talk to us

More in Life

CloZee performs during the second day of Summer Meltdown on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in Darrington, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The psychedelic fest Summer Meltdown is back — and in Monroe

The music and camping event is on for July 28-31, with a new venue along the Skykomish River.

Veteran Keith F. Reyes, 64, gets his monthly pedicure at Nail Flare on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Stanwood, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
No more gnarly feet: This ‘Wounded Warrior’ gets pedicures

Keith Reyes, 64, visits a Stanwood nail salon for “foot treatments” that help soothe blast injuries.

Enumclaw, the band
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Most of these venues require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or negative… Continue reading

Does this ring a “Belle”? Storied anime writer-director Mamoru Hosoda’s newest resets “Beauty and the Beast” in a musical, virtual environment — among other modern twists. (GKIDS/TNS)
‘Belle’ is striking virtual reality riff on ‘Beauty and the Beast’

In it, ‘Beauty’ is the charismatic online avatar of a moody teenager that attracts the attention of a bruised and brooding Beast

"Redeeming Love"
Movie review: ‘Redeeming Love’ doesn’t yield cinematic riches

The story, about a sex worker “redeemed” by a folksy farmer in Gold Rush-era California, is creepy “tradwife” fan fiction.

Eggs Florentine
Baked Eggs Florentine: A brunch favorite inspired by a queen

The kitchen manager at Quil Ceda Creek Casino shares a dish that pays homage to a spinach-crazy 16th century monarch.

Jennifer Bardsley, author of her newest book Good Catch, at her home on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021 in Edmonds, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds author transitions from young adult novels to romance

Jennifer Bardsley’s “Good Catch” is set in an Edmonds-like town. Spoiler alert: There’s a happy ending.

Caption: They might be too old for lunch box notes, but teenagers benefit from TLC too.
Fun ways to show the teens in your life that you care

The teen years can be challenging but they don’t last long. A little bit of extra attention can go a long way.

This easy-to-make spinach and mushroom quiche is perfect for a light dinner or fancy brunch. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)
Gretchen’s table: A spinach-mushroom quiche with cheesy goodness

The savory egg custard baked in a pie crust is easy to make — especially if you use a refrigerated crust.

Most Read