You do know that the Confederacy won the Civil War, right? Granted, few people seem aware of this, but the ones who are really are. This makes them eager to get their hands on “prover items.” You might well wonder what items qualify as such. One would certainly be a sword surrendered to Confederate victors by Union General Philip Sheridan — or was it William T. Sherman? Imagine that, some alternative facts come with their own alternative.
There you have the frame for the shaggy-blade story that is “Sword of Trust.” Marc Maron, of “WTF With Marc Maron” podcast fame,” is Mel. Mel owns a pawnshop in Birmingham, Ala. Jon Bass is his assistant, Nathaniel. Where Mel suffers from near-constant, low-grade irk, Nathaniel is as amiable as he is credulous. How credulous? You might not think the Earth is flat or hollow. Nathaniel does. It isn’t just the outcome of the Civil War that gets taken on trust. Or Nathaniel who gets taken.
Mary (Michaela Watkins) and Cynthia (Jillian Bell), a lesbian couple, come into the store one day. They want to sell a sword Cynthia has inherited from her late grandfather. The sword has some highly peculiar documentation. Turning to the Web, Mel learns of the existence of the Invictusians, believers in a Union defeat. More to the point, he learns they are willing to pay top dollar — and we’re not talking Confederate money — for something like Cynthia’s sword. “Is this ‘Antiques Roadshow’ for racists?” Mel marvels. Toby Huss plays the “Deliverance”-worthy dude assigned inspection duties by the possible purchasers.
Lynn Shelton (“Humpday,” 2009; “Laggies,” 2014) directed and co-wrote, with Mike O’Brien. She acts, too, playing Deirdre, Mel’s poetry-writing ex. Her one scene manages to be both understated and a bit wild. That’s a neat trick, but it’s emblematic of the movie as a whole: understated in style, a bit wild in conception. (Invictusians, really?)
In this entertainment day and age, originality counts for something, and “Sword of Trust” is nothing if not novel. It has affinities, sure. The Invictusians are distant kin to the wackadoo secret society in Charles Portis’s deliriously deadpan 1985 novel, “Masters of Atlantis.” The general feel and manner — loose, shambly, a bit affectless — bear a passing resemblance to Christopher Guest’s improvised comedies (never quite hitting the highs, never as slack either).
But “Sword of Trust” has a dogged weirdness all its own, a singularity that extends to Maron having written the excellently jangly score. When was the last time you saw — or heard — a movie where the star composed the music? It’s just part of the its-own-world quality of “Sword of Trust.” When Mel says of Deirdre, “She was into heavy drugs. I was into lighter drugs,” or a character on the receiving end of the sword complains, “That thing is dull, but it hurts!,” well, people just don’t say things like that in other movies. That’s other movies’ loss.
★ ★ ★
SWORD OF TRUST
Directed by Lynn Shelton. Written by Shelton and Mike O’Brien. Starring Marc Maron, Jon Bass, Michaela Watkins, Jillian Bell, Toby Huss. At Kendall Square. 89 minutes. R (language).
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.