The 2024 Sundance Film Festival coverage continues with a review of Stress Positions, Theda Hammel's feature film debut. Hammel provides an in-depth look at the pandemic in a way that might be triggering for those trying to forget it existed. The film stars comedian John Early in the lead role of Terry.
Terry is keeping things strict as he quarantines inside his ex-husband's home, where he is caring for his nephew, who is bedridden with a leg injury. Upon everyone finding out that Terry's nephew Bahlul was a model, they wanted to meet him. Just about anything that could go wrong for Terry will go wrong, making his life a bit of a mess.
Visual representation is something that continues to be somewhat lackluster, especially in the Queer and Trans community. So with Stress Positions, in front of and behind the camera, we see the representation without any questions. Of course, that stems from writer/director/star Theda Hammel, who shows no fear in delivering something that will surely show many that they, too, can work in the business.
The pandemic has been written about and shown on the small screen quite a bit over the last few years, to the point where it is annoying. Although some of the jokes within the film are a bit dated, Hammel captured the essence of the pandemic like we haven't seen anyone do to date. From the claustrophobic nature of the pandemic along with the imminent fear it presented, Hammel presented it with perfection.
Although Hammel captures the essence of the pandemic and lands quite a bit of comedy, the narration throws the story off. It felt so far removed from the film that it was very uneven. It didn't take me entirely out of the movie, but for some, it might do just that. Another issue I had was the movie felt long, even with its mere 96-minute runtime. It had one of the most significant issues I've seen in this years slate of films, not knowing when to end the movie.
Ultimately, Stress Positions is a promising first feature from Theda Hammel, whose work behind and in front of the camera is poignant. Toss strong performances from John Early and Qaher Harhash, and we have a fun little movie. Although it's not perfect, it delivers one of the best films about living in the pandemic we've seen to date.