Every now and then, you need a fun film. And when one comes along that has taken this whole year’s ups and downs — mostly the downs — and turned it into freewheeling fun, resisting laughter is impossible. In true pandemic fashion, “Recovery” makes whatever it can out of the worst of the first days of quarantine, the hallmarks of that time when nobody had any idea what safety measures actually worked.
If there is a way to make the anal life of the early pandemic spirited, “Recovery,” which premiered at the 2021 South by Southwest film festival, finds it. One of the few pandemic movies worth watching, “Recovery” follows two road tripping sisters, Jamie (Whitney Call) and Blake (Mallory Everton) as they race to the rescue of their nana (Anne Sward Hansen) who’s stranded in a nursing home in crisis. Their banter pushes them from New Mexico to Washington as they fret over the usual early quarantine suspects, such as slathering groceries in hand sanitizer — all to the tune of elephant noises that may or may not be farts. Oh, and Erin (Julia Jolley), the third sister, is a COVID-19-denying, cruise-going, maskless buffoon who wants to pick up Mom herself (panic!).
“Recovery” is so ebullient, it’s hard to imagine the movie isn’t nostalgic about quarantine. It’s not — it can’t be. But it is a golden artifact of a collective experience, and five years from now, someone will watch it and think, “Remember that?” There are other pieces of it, recollections of isolation, that might not be remembered so fondly. Blake pees on the side of the road, morbidly wary of public restrooms. “I got some on myself,” she says, not as disappointed as she is bored.
Earlier, the duo honks along to a song, provoking the motorcyclist in front of them, who spits in Jamie’s mouth as she tries to apologize. Jamie pulls over, her mouth still agape, guzzling hand sanitizer and laying in the grass, while Blake rains water on her. While it draws an irrevocable hurt, directors Everton and Stephen Meek turn this incident into a wheezy, full-bodied laugh, taking the edge off a suddenly morbid world.
Everton and Meek’s strongest twist of comedy layers dueling dramas — one for each sister — over the trip. Jamie, a fourth grade teacher, contends with Jacob Harper (Baylee Thornock), a student with a thing for older women, who also takes care of the class mice, and his frazzled, mildly crazy mom (Jessica Drolet). Meanwhile, Blake faces off with Scott (Noah Kershisnik), the guy she met right before quarantine separated them, who flip-flops between sweet “model shot” and repulsive “toilet bowl penis” in a series of anxiety-fueled text blunders that test how well Blake really knows him.
In that spirit, writers Call and Everton’s mission is to make something amazing from something horrible. For the most part, they achieve it. There are small, mostly inconsequential moments that flop, landing as excuses for “Recovery” to have fun with itself. Largely, however, those excuses for fun — watch out for the clown — are the very things that drive the script, and the trite parts of “the new normal” are weaponized for laughs. This script, slices of life stitched together by a forking road trip, is a reflection of unending waiting. The best joys in “Recovery” come from the rarities that mark, sometimes punctuate, time’s passage: the interludes, the waiting music, the apocalyptic nursing home residents and the moments spent figuring out whether Scott is a “brawny sexpot” or “garden gnome.”
“Hope you’re healthy,” flour and paper towels all have a home in “Recovery.” Truly, however, this film captures the weird ways life has changed and the personal upsets that drive those changes with touching humanity. This wonderful, delightful ray of sunshine — even while condemning the selfish Erins and Mrs. Harpers — reminds us of our neighbors and that respecting them and chastising them are not mutually exclusive.