GLOW Talents Marc Maron and Lynn Shelton Re-team for Televisual Kinda-comedy.
DIRECTED BY LYNN SHELTON/2019
The South won the Civil War. Take a moment and let that sink in. The American Civil War. 1861 to 1865. Google it, and you’ll see right away: “How the South Won the Civil War”. Courtesy of no less than The New Yorker.
But. Hold the phone… before you hang up that painting of Jefferson Davis and raise the Confederate flag in resignation, take a minute to investigate the underlying truth of it all. Maybe even longer than a minute.
As it turns out, The New Yorker piece is all about how, despite the military victory of Union forces over the Confederacy, any semblance of an ideological victory to match is far less apparent, if not terribly absent. Ah. Aha.
But that’s not what this movie is about. This movie is about four people trying to sell a sword. It’s an antique sword, kind of nice- and quite importantly here, a Union sword from the aforementioned Civil War. In Birmingham, Alabama, they don’t see a lot of those. Not a bad item.
Marc Maron stars as Mel, the owner of a local pawn shop. Mel employs Nathaniel (Jon Bass) to help around the shop, to mostly work the smartphone, or anything involving the internet, or technology. So mostly, Nathaniel spends his days watching amusing online videos on the tablet with earbuds, arbitrarily annoying Mel with bursts of laughter. In the meantime, people bring in their old junk, Mel sizes it up, gives a cash offer, or not. It’s an old-school seat-of-the-pants business; honestly above board, if honestly not always above boring.
Sword of Trust is a halfway memorable little movie that looks like it was made over a weekend for a budget of $550 and a few handshakes.
One day, in walks Cynthia and Mary (Jillian Bell and Michaela Watkins), brandishing the weapon in question. Maybe not so much “brandishing” as “looking to sell”. In previous scenes, we’ve learned that, much to Cynthia’s disappointment, the sword is her only inheritance from a recently departed elderly grandfather. Though it’s been the primary heirloom of her family for generations, the handwritten note and papers it comes with make her decide that it’s time to part with it. What do these papers say? Basically, a garbled, senile version of how this sword proves that, yes, the South actually won the Civil War. Militarily, ideologically, the whole kit and caboodle. Won.
Between their own deficiencies at recalling Civil War history and the garbled nature of the handwritten note, no one can keep their story straight in terms of retelling exact details of this malarkey. (General Sherman/General Sheridan; 15,000 troops lost/30,000 troops lost at the Battle of Chickadee/Chickapoo/Chickenfoot, etc). But, fact of the matter is, it turns out that more people believe that the South actually truly won the war than you’d think. And to them, this sword- supposedly surrendered to General Lee by General Sherman/Sheridan, actually somehow tangibly proves it. To them, it’s worth a lot of money.
This leads to Mel & Nathaniel and Cynthia & Mary forming an uneasy alliance in the interest of selling this “provable item” to shady Dark Web conspiracy theorists, and their particular makeshift methods of maintaining secrecy. Nathaniel and Mary savor the adventure of their journey to the center of “The Brain”… such as it is. Mel and Cynthia more or less just want to get this over with.
On the whole, Sword of Trust is a halfway memorable little movie that looks like it was made over a weekend for a budget of $550 and a few handshakes. Maron, the central draw and biggest name involved, is just fine here, doing the exasperated Marc Maron thing that’s so familiar to fans of the Netflix series, GLOW. In fact, the whole movie has a very Netflix-y GLOW kinda feel, but on an even smaller scale. It should be no surprise, then, that the film’s co-writer/director/supporting player Lynn Shelton (Laggies, Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister) also helmed several episodes of that series. And also like GLOW, Sword of Trust wields that particular awkward and melancholy humor; rarely a belly laugh, but many a knowing chuckle. With a side of pain.
All that said, Sword of Trust is an ideal film for the cultural here-and-now, delving into how, these days, one person’s horsecrap is another person’s gospel truth, no matter how stupid and refuted it may be. We all have our suspicions and sensitivities about other people’s values and beliefs… it should come as no surprise that they probably feel the same way about ours.
But at the same time, horsecrap is still horsecrap, no matter how far and wide its stink may waft. Sword of Trust pokes its share of fun at its chosen targets, what with its “Antiques Roadshow for Racists” angle- though we also come to
find out that one of our main characters, whom we’ve come to care about, ascribes to an altogether different load of popular nonsense. Somewhere in this vicinity, not quite as sharp as it should be, lies the film’s sharpest apex. A tension. A truth.