Written by and starring Mallory Everton and Whitney Call, Recovery doesn’t make any mistake about its time and place. Set in the beginning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the road trip comedy about two sisters, Jamie and Blake, is quick to pounce on our sheer lack of knowledge through the first weeks and early months of the outbreak. We sprayed down our grocery bags. We thought droplets were anywhere and everywhere. We were, rightfully, scared. Recovery attempts to flip that fear into comedy, never committing to the weight of the pandemic, opting for “gotcha” moments instead of more complete looks at the stress and anxiety we have collectively experienced.
Co-directed by Everton and Stephen Meek, the film hits the road with Jamie and Blake as they attempt to rescue their grandmother from a nursing home fraught with a COVID outbreak, overloaded nurses, and mischievous residents speaking of doomsday. Jamie, a teacher, deals with her class’s pet mice, which she gives to an overexcited and text-first student, while Blake deals with the fallout of her one-date relationship that started days before the quarantine set in.
Due to the real-life friendship between Everton and Call, Recovery gets relationships right. The dialogue between Blake and Jamie comes easy, and the film’s best moments come when the two shoot the shit, chatting about dealbreakers, hopes for the future, and the current anxieties of living in an unknown world, and traveling further away from home with each passing minute. Their love is palpable, and they make a stellar duo that brightens the screen and keeps the jokes coming, regardless if they all don’t land. Blake insists on the character of this man of her dreams, who she doesn’t know outside of a single evening and endless Instagram scrolling. She builds him up and he lets her down, only to win her back hours later. In a time without face-to-face contact, our minds run wild with expectations, fantasies, and made-up scenarios, hoping that one day the best case of those scenarios will play out in front of us.
Throughout its short runtime, Recovery convinces you that more devastating events are on the horizon. COVID lurks around the corner for the sisters and their Nana, while their sister is about to return from a sickness-ridden cruise. The chance of illness, and possible death, seems to be rising by the mile, but the filmmakers never commit to delving beyond the sunniness of the script. They repeatedly backtrack, opting for happy endings that don’t feel reminiscent to the actual pain of the last 12 months. That isn’t to say that this pain needed to be in the film, but the constant hinting at grief and loss never has a payoff. Many people have lost someone they loved over the last year. And if they haven’t, they’ve lost some combination of normalcy, assuredness, stability, and intimacy. The film won’t do much more than admit these losses exist, much less dive headfirst into the darkness and shared trauma endured by millions, if not billions, of people around the world.
The film remains breezy, containing enough laughs to sustain your attention but not enough drama to keep you away from checking your phone. It’s another entry in the rapidly increasing ledger of pandemic-fueled comedies. Recovery likely won’t be the best of those comedies, but it certainly isn’t the worst, either. It floats somewhere in the middle, happy for its protagonists to rollerblade on down the road with a dog leash in one hand and a mask plastered to their faces. And there’s still value in forgettability, as not every film needs to stick in the corner of your mind for the days following. For Recovery, the value doesn’t amount to more than a kind look at sisterhood, the overstated craziness of our current situation, and one-too-many Tom Hanks jokes.
This review is from the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.
Photo Credit: Brenna Empey