“If poking fun at a traumatic incident is the best way to heal from it, then Recovery might just be the medicine the world needs.”
The global pandemic lasting long enough for some form of retrospective look at it in all its messy carnage to become possible is such a brutally sombre thought in and of itself. But Recovery — Mallory Everton and Stephen Meek’s astonishing road trip comedy about the early days of the pandemic — cinematizes the phrase “someday you’ll look back at this and laugh.” Turns out that ‘someday’ has arrived (roughly a year after the period the film is set, no less), and pandemic-centered comedies may have met their peak in the light drama and exaggerated humour that Everton and Meek have expertly created.
Recovery features all the trappings of early pandemic life, painted over with a breezy simplicity that makes those first couple of months worth remembering (especially when compared to the messy hellhole that is the much worse current state of the world). Whereas other pandemic movies strive to capture and capitalize on the moment in ways that feel terribly disingenuous and egregiously uninteresting, Recovery parodies the broad strokes of March 2020. Through Everton and co-star Whitney Call’s over-the-top yet acerbic writing, the movie constantly pushes forward while subverting our idea of what a pandemic movie should look or feel like. Even in its less interesting moments, Recovery still manages to remain fresh and timely, while perfectly reminiscing on a particular period.
Every major bit of Recovery is ripped from the headlines of barely a year ago: the mass outbreaks at nursing homes that caused a great deal of panic for those with older relatives (at a time when COVID was thought to be youth-resistant), the dynamic shifts in teacher-student relationships that began to blur the professional and the personal, the parents with nowhere to go who had to spend every waking moment with their children, and even the Diamond Princess— the cruise ship from hell that led to 14 deaths because rich white people deemed the pandemic a hoax. If poking fun at a traumatic incident is the best way to heal from it, then Recovery might just be the medicine the world needs.
Call and Everton play Jamie and Blake, two sisters who receive a phone call regarding a COVID outbreak at their grandmother’s nursing home. Their two-day trip to rescue her takes place largely inside the confines of their car. When we first meet them however, COVID is still a sleeping giant on the brink of worldwide pandemic status, and just like everyone else, they have dreams about the wonderful year 2020 is preparing to be. Jamie, a 4th grade teacher celebrating her 30th birthday, is thinking about potentially travelling or enrolling at a gym, while the more laid-back Blake is gleaming at the idea of a second date with what was at first a one-night stand. If only life were that rosy. The next couple of scenes perfectly portray the panic of the pandemic’s first few weeks: the incessant hand-washing and sanitizing, the constant cycle of disheartening news reports and statistics, and the sudden wave of ennui enveloping a a world in perpetual motion that is brought to a screeching halt. So when Jamie and Blake have to go pick up their grandmother across state, it is a welcome change of affair from the boredom of staying at home.
Call and Everton are baked into the very core of Recovery, bouncing off of one another with magnetic chemistry and burgeoning enthusiasm. They possess just enough charisma and charm to make even the most ridiculous jokes land (for example, a bit about an enraged biker who spits in Blake’s face only works because of the breezy manner in which the dialogue is delivered and the scenes are played out), but never too much that it becomes overbearing.
Outside of the endearing performances, the rest of Recovery feels like stock indie fare. The writing at times teeters towards cringe, some of the COVID-based jokes feel a tad bit tacky (maybe a joke about Tom Hanks contracting a deadly disease isn’t quite the setup for anything remotely funny), and satirizing habits that stem from adapting to a global lockdown comes off as caricature. There’s definitely something to be said about whether or not the world is ready for the exploitation of an ongoing pandemic in art (it’s not), and whether all the COVID-based content is too soon (it is). But if Hollywood threatens to pump out more COVID-related content for an audience still exhausted from the shared traumatic experience of it all, then we can only hope that it’s as good as this one.
Dir: Mallory Everton & Stephen Meek
Wri: Mallory Everton & Whitney Call
Cast: Mallory Everton, Whitney Call, Julia Jolley, Anna Sward Hansen