Thursday, May 23, 2024

“STRESS POSITIONS”

THE STORY – Terry cares for his injured nephew, a 19-year-old Moroccan model, in strict quarantine at his ex-husband’s Brooklyn home, drawing attention from everyone in his life.

THE CAST – John Early, Theda Hammel, Qaher Harhash, Amy Zimmer, Faheem Ali, Rebecca F. Wright, Davidson Obennebo & John Roberts

THE TEAM – Theda Hammel (Director/Writer) & Faheem Ali (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 95 Minutes


The method by which grief and trauma are processed is always an eternal struggle. It’s a particular journey tailored to an individual, rarely reaching full completion. Success is merely present in small ways to tolerate the overwhelming sensations. It becomes even more challenging when such ghastly events are perceived on a large scale. It’s hard enough for one person to analyze the complex stages that must be endured to get past such painful memories, and even more so when such trials are seen on a global landscape. Such was the case with the pandemic, which continues to be a source of anguish that has never quite settled. “Stress Positions” ventures back to the height of this anxious time, with a humorous examination touching on insight while also being a slightly frustrating excursion.

As triggering as it can be, the setting of “Stress Positions” is the summer of 2020, when the COVID-19 virus was still raging across the world with very little insight into stopping its spread. This is when Terry (John Early) is camping out in his soon-to-be ex-husband’s Brooklyn brownstone, barely getting by amidst the chaos. His nephew, Bahlul (Qaher Harhash), is a 19-year-old Moroccan model who, while visiting, breaks his leg after a scooter accident, leaving him bedridden. A curiosity blooms among his neighbors and friends about meeting the young man; chief among them is Karla (Theda Hammel), a trans woman frustrated with her own domestic situation. Over the July 4th holiday, this small group discovers personal revelations that will reach far beyond one messy moment of time.

Deciding the right time to tackle this particular period in cinematic storytelling is difficult. Often, it feels like some distance is required before commenting on recent events, especially ones that carry as much emotional weight as the early days of lockdown. Yet, Hammel, who’s also the film’s writer and director, captures a quirky sensibility that effectively disarms much of the real-world unease. There’s a rather infectious chaotic energy that provides an intriguing atmosphere for these individuals’ worlds. At the same time, the experience can also be laborious, suffering from an irregular pace frequently stalling the momentum. The combative dialogue has a playful quality, showcasing a frantic vulnerability that is appreciated. Still, the conversations soon spin their wheels and circle around the same issues without mining more thematic weight.

Hammel does a fine job setting up the film’s landscape with interesting characters but struggles to maintain that engagement throughout the narrative. The perspectives are split between the main characters, each with a different viewpoint that analyzes how they tolerate such hectic circumstances but also how they recognize certain truths of their own identity. It’s all fascinating commentary on the surface, yet it is stretched too thin by a lack of focus. Terry’s insecurity with personal relationships, Bahlul’s burgeoning acknowledgment of his place in adulthood, and Karla’s desperate sense of fulfillment are all captivating topics but sadly are muddled by the uneven story. There is plenty of charm laid throughout, but it is difficult to become fully gripped by this display.

The most compelling element of “Stress Positions,” by far, is Early’s performance. There is a sincerity in how he portrays a man festering with insecurities that never tips all the way into total unlikability. He depicts Terry with a deep earnestness that can easily be interpreted as grating while maintaining an empathetic aura. Watching him twist with every gesture not only provides great comedic fodder but also a tender and realistic demonstration of working through one’s despair. It’s a riveting turn that is a great anchor and is far more impactful than either Harhash or Hammel. This is not to say that either is unsatisfactory; it is just that their performances never rise above the issues on the page, making their characterizations serviceable but stopping short of genuinely moving. Honestly, there’s more alluring work from Amy Zimmer as Karla’s suffering girlfriend and Rebecca F. Wright as the primarily silent upstairs neighbor with a beguiling screen presence.

Films that examine the mass suffering of the beginning stages of the pandemic always come with intense scrutiny. “Stress Positions” certainly takes aim at this heavy subject matter and attempts to infuse this material with a sense of turbulent comedy to arrive at a deeply felt catharsis. Unfortunately, much of this exercise is so imbalanced when it comes to genuinely connecting to this premise due to the arduous environment. Still, these characters are engrossing in many ways, and the performances (especially Early’s) significantly elevate their standing. It’s another facet of this monumental slice of history that can be respected despite its strenuous nature.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - An interesting examination of early pandemic life, with a chaotic and quirky energy that is captivating. Several performances stand out, particularly John Early, who gives a compelling portrayal that effectively captures both humor and sadness.

THE BAD - The narrative can get very tedious due to its structure, which splits the perspective between the characters. This keeps the emotional commentary at a distance and the topics of conversation very circular. The pacing often stalls the momentum, and the other main performers are less impactful than Early.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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Josh Parham
Josh Parhamhttps://nextbestpicture.com
I love movies so much I evidently hate them. Wants to run a production company.

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>An interesting examination of early pandemic life, with a chaotic and quirky energy that is captivating. Several performances stand out, particularly John Early, who gives a compelling portrayal that effectively captures both humor and sadness.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The narrative can get very tedious due to its structure, which splits the perspective between the characters. This keeps the emotional commentary at a distance and the topics of conversation very circular. The pacing often stalls the momentum, and the other main performers are less impactful than Early.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"STRESS POSITIONS"