Stress Positions (2024)

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Stress-Positions-(2024)
Stress Positions (2024)

Feel how you want about “Stress Positions,” but this indie comedy, which represents the first film of writer-director-costar Theda Hammel, doesn’t try too hard to be liked by the audience. It not only takes us back to the beginning of COVID-19 (a time that many people may not wish to revisit at all, let alone as a setup for a comedy) but it also fills its story with some of the most selfish and annoying characters imaginable. This is definitely one approach, I suppose. Nevertheless, while some viewers might find her dedication to extremes admirable, I think most will be driven away from it.

The movie takes place in spring and summer 2020 and follows Terry (John Early), who plans on waiting things out in a Brooklyn brownstone owned by his ex-husband Leo (John Roberts) with Leo’s 19-year-old Moroccan nephew Bahlul (Qaher Harhash), who works as a male model and has been laid up with a broken leg after getting hit by a car while riding a scooter. But Terry’s desire to protect himself and Bahlul from what could be happening outside knows no bounds: He sprays every surface he touches with an endless supply of Lysol and erases any trace of Leo’s life as the apartment’s reigning party animal. He also tries to keep people from visiting—except for the maskless MAGA neighbor who can fix the wi-fi and the GrubHub courier who comes every day—by claiming that Bahlul is too injured to have guests over.

Of course, word gets around pretty quickly when there’s a handsome male model holed up in your apartment. Soon enough, Terry’s best (and maybe only) friend, trans lesbian Karla (Hammel), shows up both to meet him herself and to take a break from her wife Vanessa (Amy Zimmer), an author who basically stole Karla’s life story for her first novel and is now struggling to come up with a second one. As Terry gets more and more frustrated, paranoid, and injured from slipping on raw chicken, Karla goes out of her way to befriend Bahlul and help him figure out who he is. Their efforts are complicated by the fact that Leo suddenly shows up with his new fiancé and others, all of whom are dying to meet Terry’s mysterious guest.

There are some funny parts in the beginning, when Hammel adopts a cheerfully goofy tone. The best of these may be Terry’s determination to bang his pots and pans for hospital workers without pausing his latest rant. I also liked how, in their attempts to get on Bahlul’s good side, the people around Terry only reveal their own narrow-mindedness and occasional racism. Karla tries to suck up by playing up her dubious Mediterranean heritage; Vanessa talks about growing up around “blondes,” which she presents as if it were an experience akin to being raised by wolves. While everyone is eager to talk about the evils of America (Terry seems to do so, in part at least, as a way of atoning for his post-9/11 conservative phase), none of them seem able even to say whether Morocco is or is not part of the Middle East.

This is all funny enough, but the problem with “Stress Positions” lies in its being funny just once. About halfway through, said point arrives then there’s another hour or so left. At which point things start piling up. Hammel brings on too many characters and plot threads and repeated punchlines and turns what has been a failed exercise in Blake Edwards-style farce into an overlong one.

The bigger issue with basically every character hereabouts being more self-absorbed and awful than the last without this making them any more interesting is that nearly everyone does outdo each other: In terms of general awfulness. The only one who doesn’t is Bahlul, perhaps the funniest running joke here is how he quietly suggests that these people fawning for his attention aren’t nearly as special or exciting as they think they are. If more of this movie had been about that idea rather than just becoming increasingly chaotic if it hadn’t been an endless litany of smug obnoxiousness — it might have amounted to something other than what it is.

Also On Putlocker.

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