Sundance Review: ‘Stress Positions’

John Early Hilariously Tries To Hold It Together During The Pandemic In Theda Hammel's Experimental Farce

Stress Positions captures a very specific moment in time. Mid-pandemic, New York City, everyone doesn’t know what’s happening, misinformation is flying, and every millennial is trying their best. At the heart of Theda Hammel’s first feature is a dilapidated brownstone where the wifi doesn’t work and where a Moroccan model recuperates from a broken leg that everyone is mesmerized by. 

John Early plays Terry Goon, a broke millennial, living out the final days of his marriage in his estranged husband’s rundown partyhouse. His nephew, Bahul (Qaher Harhash), a model whom Terry is not close to, was hit by an ambulance at the beginning of summer. When we meet him he is on the mend but heavily guarded by Terry, who has yet to sign his divorce papers despite his husband (John Roberts) moving on and traveling across the world mid-pandemic. 

All of this is told through Terry’s friend, Karla, a pushy and inconsiderate transwoman and massage therapist (Theda Hammel) who all but forces her way into the house when Terry throws his back out. Like most people in his life, she doesn’t respect his wishes, whether that’s leaving his nephew alone or respecting his COVID protocols. As Terry keeps getting into accidents and more people come to the house for various reasons, people start to realize their own neuroses and issues are part of the problem. 

If experimental farce is a genre, then this film is the definition of it. John Early captures a millennial in crisis with the panic, relatability,  and wherewithal of a young blonde ingenue in a 1930s screwball comedy. He is the neurotic heart of Stress Positions, though Hammel doesn’t tap into him as much as she should.

Instead, she heavily leans into the experimental part of the genre. Throughout the film, there are these long art-house-style monologues that are supposed to provide deeper insight into Bahul and Karla’s characters. However, because no one grows or changes throughout the narrative, these voiceovers and accompanying visuals just feel jaded and extravagant.

Throughout Stress Positions, we meet Karla’s author girlfriend (Amy Zimmer), the MAGA-loving-peeping-tom trans woman upstairs (Rebecca F. Wright) who doesn’t say a word, the politically incorrect GrubHub delivery man whom Terry is lusting after and Karla actually bangs, and the entire rave crew Terry’s soon to be ex-husband brings to the house. These characters are less frustrating when Hammel is leaning into the farce aspects of the film, but when she tries to find a deeper meaning in all of this queer chaos, Stress Positions falls flat.

'Stress Positions'
Cortland Jacoby
A D.C area native, Cortland has been interested in media since birth. Taking film classes in high school and watching the classics with family instilled a love of film in Cortland’s formative years. Before graduating with a degree in English and minoring in Film Study from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, Cortland ran the college’s radio station, where she frequently reviewed films on air. She then wrote for another D.C area publication before landing at Punch Drunk Critics. Aside from writing and interviewing, she enjoys podcasts, knitting, and talking about representation in media.
sundance-review-stress-positionsCapturing a particular time in millennial lives, Theda Hammel's first feature is more successful when it leans into its comedy.