I enjoy Lynn Shelton’s work overall but I think Sword of Trust is her best feature to date. It doesn’t seem like an improv-based film at all; it plays as well as a scripted comedy but manages to retain an air of spontaneity, constantly throwing us curves—and laughs.

The set-up is likably off-kilter. One morning, Birmingham pawnshop owner Marc Maron is handed an oddity from two female customers (Jillian Bell and Michaela Watkins), an old sword from the Civil War that may change our understanding of how that fateful event played out. This impels Maron to do some research, with the dubious help of his sad-sack assistant (Jon Bass), and leads all four fortune-hunters on a strange and surprising adventure.

Standup comic and master interviewer Maron has become a natural on-camera, as fans of GLOW can attest. This part is tailor-made for him; his interaction with Bass and the other oddballs they meet on their journey plays to his strengths. (He also provided the bluesy guitar score for the film.) Shelton provides him and his castmates with the raw material for a quirky odyssey through the backwoods (and lunatic fringe) of the South. Such young “old pros” as Toby Huss and Dan Bakkedahl dial up the absurdity of the plotline as they turn up along the road.

Sword of Trust is light and satisfying. It left me while a smile on my face, and that’s more than I can say for other, far more ambitious endeavors. Shelton and her co-writer Mike O’Brien earn my thanks.

My daughter Jessie and I had the pleasure of interviewing Marc Maron and Lynn Shelton for our Maltin On Movies podcast live on stage at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Click HERE to listen.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024