It can be difficult to wrap ones head around what ‘Mumblecore’ is today: a genuine movement ten-plus years ago, and one that once had so much promise, it’s finally yielded to some of its shallower tendencies. Lynn Shelton’s latest feature, Sword of Trust, is a prime example — a sitcom-esque dramatic comedy that leans on the audience’s history with its star, celebrity Marc Maron, as well as their awareness of what’s currently topical, in lieu of anything more substantive. Admittedly these were always traits at least present in the work by Shelton and her colleagues throughout the mid-to-late-2000s, but whereas Mumblecore once had a firm grasp on why modern peculiarities eventually evolved into crippling social neuroses, more recent films, like Joe Swanberg’s Easy, suggest an apathy toward imagination, coupled with a desire to mine modern idiosyncrasies without looking at them too closely.
Maron acts as the unlikely center of this production, playing a loosely fictionalized version of himself named Mel, a recovering addict who runs a pawn shop in Alabama after wasting away much of his youth in an unhealthy, drug-fueled relationship. Anyone who has a decent familiarity with Maron’s podcast, stand up, or his IFC show (of which Shelton directed two episodes) will recognize this narrative as the comedian’s own — albeit a version where Maron didn’t end up successful. Of course, Shelton and her mumblecore contemporaries have long employed this tactic in their work, and while it’s paid off in the past (she somehow coaxed a good performance out of Mark Duplass by casting him as a guy resentful of his dead brother in Your Sister’s Sister), it feels rather pointless to further analyze a pop culture figure who’s built his entire career upon re-litigating his past. This all starts to look even more egregious when you consider that the primary plot (lesbian couple inherit a sword and try to sell it to Civil War truthers) has no real need for Maron’s character, and yet he dominates the proceedings, which, combined with the humor and pokey pacing, makes the whole affair feel like a leftover episode of the actor/comedian’s cancelled show (IFC are also distributing Sword of Trust), but stretched to feature length.
Published as part of July 2019’s Before We Vanish.