Lynn Shelton may have come to filmmaking a little later than some, but the intimate dramedys she made were unlike any other.
The We Go Way Back director was 39 years old when she made her first feature film but her career was cut short on Friday, May 15, when she died at the age of 54 due to an unidentified blood disorder.
The comedian and actor Marc Maron – who was Shelton’s partner both creatively and romantically – announced the filmmaker’s death in a statement, saying: “I have some awful news. Lynn passed away last night. She collapsed yesterday morning after having been ill for a week.”
The pair met after Shelton directed a few episodes of Maron's TV series Maron and Glow, the latter in which Maron plays the foul-mouthed and confrontational director of a women's wrestling show.
Shelton, who started in the world of film as an editor, was wary of taking up the role of director while in her thirties, thinking that it may be too late for her.
However, she attended a talk by French director Claire Denis at Seattle's Northwest Film Forum in 2003 and, after hearing that Denis was 40 when she directed her first feature, she decided to go for it.
Shelton's directorial work on Glow, The Good Place and Mad Men showed promise of her mainstream potential. However, it is in her indie films where her storytelling sensibilities truly shine.
Below, find her most touching works that will surely stand the test of time.
'We Go Way Back' (2006)
Shelton’s first feature has a magic-realist quality that can only be described as Borgesian. The film revolves around an encounter between a 23-year-old actress (played by Amber Hubert) and her 13-year-old self (Maggie Brown).
The conversations between the two begin in memory before peaking with a visit by an apparition of the actress’s younger, more precocious self.
We Go Way Back premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2006, where it won the Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature. However, it was only released in cinemas in 2011.
A film that upends machoism with its unique and hilarious take on male friendship, Humpday is seen by many to be Shelton's breakthrough film. It stars Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard as two old college friends who fall into their old dynamic of one-upping each other until they end up starring in an art project.
While discussing the film with the New York Times, Shelton said that she was "attracted to ideas that on paper seem ridiculous and that could never really be believable, and then taking up the challenge of trying to create a portrait of that story that is believable, emotionally grounded and real".
The film won a number of awards, including the Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Independence at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009 and was the Critics' Pick by both the New York Times and New York Magazine. It also won Shelton a Best Director award at the 2009 Gijon International Film Festival.
'Your Sister’s Sister' (2011)
A discreet and thoughtful film about a group of people spending a few days in a secluded cottage by a lake, where they go through a series of awkward events that disrupts all their lives.
The film – which stars Emily Blunt, Duplass and Rosemarie DeWitt – premiered in 2011 at the Toronto Film Festival and was favourably received by critics for subverting rom-com expectations with a subtle directorial approach.
Film critic Peter Travers praised the film, saying it “works its way into your head until you can't stop thinking about it".
'Touchy Feely' (2013)
Though Touchy Feely was not as favourably received by critics as Shelton's other works, the film still has her signature approach of turning the comedy-drama genre on its head.
The film tells the story of a massage therapist (DeWitt) who is unable to do her job after a sudden aversion to bodily contact. Conversely, her brother’s (Josh Pais) struggling dental practice sees a boom after he develops a healing touch.
Touchy Feely premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize.
'Sword of Trust' (2019)
Shelton’s last film revolves around a sword that Cynthia (Jillian Bell) inherits from her grandfather, which, according to him, proves that the South won the US Civil War. Cynthia then partners up with a group of people, including a pawn shop owner (Maron), in a bid to find buyers for the sword.
The comedy had its world premiere at the South by Southwest festival on March 2019 and received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Maron also won Best Actor for his role in the film at the Gijon International Film Festival in 2019.
Sword of Trust is a great example of Shelton's unique approach not just as a director, but as a storyteller. It is a testament that the filmmaker had still a lot left to give.