I know many don’t exactly appreciate the idea of a COVID-19 comedy amid a resurging COVID-19 pandemic – it betrays cinema’s inherent escapism, plus it’s not like Hollywood’s blessed us with great film comedy of late. Stop and Go (also known as Recovery in non-North American markets) finds itself in a uniquely advantageous position: it takes place during the early stages of the pandemic, when we didn’t know if our pets were possible plague vessels primed to end us all, and when I would disinfect fruit. In that sense, Stop and Go serves as a time capsule chronicling the frenetic confusion of those early weeks and months, a blanket of solidarity.
Thankfully, for the most part it manages to toe the fine line between trying to make awareness of clichés funny in and of itself (see Netflix’s Death to… series for some egregious examples of this) and being tasteless. It gets direly close to falling into either trap. Writers and stars Whitney Call and Mallory Everton (who co-directs with Stephen Meek, who also appears in a minor role) know it, you know it, I know it, and I got quite a bit of satisfaction watching them routinely inch ever closer off that line and pull back on track at the last minute, like some recurring minor act of heroics.
Anyway, the premise, which is brisk enough: two sisters, Jamie (Call) and Blake (Everton), find out a COVID-19 outbreak’s going through their grandmother’s (Anne Sward Hansen) nursing home, so they set out to rescue her. Stop and Go is very much a road trip film, devoting most of its 80-minute runtime in and around the sisters’ car, leading to the movie’s greatest strength and its greatest downfall – we spend the entirety of our time getting to know the sisters, doing much of the legwork for making this function as a non-tacky COVID comedy, but we spend the entirety of our time with the sisters, so when a weak gag rolls around there’s nobody the movie can escape to, we’re just fucked and forced to endure.
Now’s a good time to note that the key players herald from Studio C, a sketch show ala Mad TV, evident by the soul of sketch comedy running rich through Stop and Go‘s pacing and joke delivery. Good sketch makes the world a better, warmer place, as certain a thing as soup nourishing the sick and Mariah Carey rising from her tomb at Christmastime. Stop and Go boasts a healthy selection of good bits (a COVID-fueled dream sequence with an excellent cap-off comes to mind, for one). Bad sketch is its own special form of brutality – when a bit starts going, by God it isn’t stopping no matter how hard it falls. There isn’t really bad comedy in Stop and Go, but there’s without a doubt some not good comedy, usually in the form of weak jokes that go on for way too long, calling maximum attention to just how awkward they are. Hell, even some good jokes are diluted by stretching them well beyond their means, like Blake’s arc involving her maybe-boyfriend Scott (Noah Kershisnik), who’s clearly a socially awkward person, which is funny for one scene, then the movie just keeps on going with it, as this arc causes Blake some stress and becomes a frequent talking point for her as she laments the status of their relationship – something a typical person might do in your day-to-day, sure, but it’s notably uninteresting, hogging runtime in a movie that needs to savour what little it uses.
Regardless, Call and Everton have terrific chemistry, and I can admire the movie’s commitment to rounding out the sisters as people even if the results can be haphazard; it helps immensely that we’re watching characters we recognize as flesh-and-blood people reacting to the world we had (and still have) to react to these past couple years. In doing so, both Call and Everton act as anchors, often expressing shock at the antics of the more off-beat side characters, such as their sister Erin (Julia Jolley) who routinely disregards COVID as a Big Deal, contextualizing the COVID jokes (which would otherwise be largely unimpressive) such that they reflect the sisters’ varying emotions towards what’s happening to their lives.
I wish the film’s visual style also reflected these shifts in the sisters’ world – Everton and Meek keep things strictly naturalistic as with many a recent American indie. It’s very obligatory filmmaking – I’d call it mercenary if it wasn’t obvious everyone involved was having a good time – and doesn’t really humour the idea of style. It doesn’t have to, but since we get to a point where the movie’s grasping for plot elements it would’ve given us something else to latch onto, added some extra oomph. Or maybe I’m just needy.
Still, it’s a sweet lark of a movie, made by people trying to make us laugh in the face of seemingly perpetual tragedy and, perhaps, make sense of it themselves; that it succeeds at all is a small achievement. In the hands of lesser talent, Stop and Go could’ve been worse. Much, much worse.