Stress Positions

Stress Positions

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You may say anything about the new indie comedy “Stress Positions” that is the debut feature of Theda Hammel as a writer, director and co-star; it does not overdo its efforts to be likable for potential audience. Not only does it take us back in time to the early days of COVID-19 (an era that many audiences may not feel particularly inclined to revisit, especially in the context of a comedy) but populates its narrative with some of the most spectacularly solipsistic and generally irritating characters imaginable. As strategies go, this one is certainly risky I guess. Nevertheless, although a number of viewers may find her ability to go this far impressive, I believe much more will head straight for the exits.

The film unfolds during spring and summer of 2020 with Terry (John Early), who hopes to ride out life in Leo’s Brooklyn brownstone along with Bahlul (Qaher Harhash), his 19-year-old Moroccan nephew whose leg is broken after crashing on a scooter while working as a male model. To protect Bahlul from whatever dangers he fears are lurking beyond their front door, he goes about it all in rather extreme ways: hosing down practically every surface with seemingly infinite supplies of Lysol, and erasing any trace that would remind anyone that this had once been Leo’s legendary party apartment for years. He also tries to keep potential visitors—save for the maskless MAGA neighbor who can fix the wi-fi and the GrubHub courier who is a regular fixture—away by insisting that the newcomer is too badly injured to have guests coming by.

No doubt Terry having an attractive, mysterious male model holed up his apartment would raise eyebrows among those around him. Soon enough Terry Karla appears at his doorstop seeking information regarding this person and taking some time off her wife Vanessa (Amy Zimmer), an author who basically plagiarized Karla’s entire life for her first book and now cannot come up with a follow-up. Stress Positions Terry, meanwhile, is becoming more and more frustrated and paranoid—plus suffering injuries such as slips on raw chicken—while Karla tries to reach out to Bahlul in order that he can understand himself better. When Leo suddenly shows up at their jobs with his new fiancé and others who want to meet Terry’s mysterious guest themselves, things get way too complicated for them both.

Hamel introduces the piece with a joke he makes funny in a bright buoyant way. Stress Positions the most amusing of all is Terry’s stubbornness to beat his drums and pans for the sake of front-line workers while at the same time, shouting about his latest complaints. What amuses me more is the way people around try by all means to endear themselves to Bahlul but in reality just underlines their narrow mindedness and sometimes racism. For instance, Karla tries to win favor by playing up her dubious Mediterranean ancestry, Vanessa bemoans growing up surrounded only by “blondes.” Everybody may want to talk about how evil Americans are (for Terry, it may be a way of repenting for his post 9/11 conservative stint) but they seem not even sure if Morocco is located in Middle East.

This mentioned point makes it funny until half of its lifespan. However, this remaining runtime suffers from too many subplots, repetitive punchlines and characters that Hammel essentially tries to morph into something akin to Blake Edwards farce without success.

Moreover, one problem lies in everyone’s obsession with their own problems and being terrible people. That doesn’t apply to Bahlul; maybe the funniest and most subtle running gag is that he never says it aloud but implies none of these people trying hard for his attention are as special or interesting as they believe. If the movie concentrated more on this instead of increasingly chaotic events here then perhaps it could have been more than just another endless list smug obnoxiousness.

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