It’s not easy to fathom the rush to make films about the coronavirus pandemic, especially since we’re not quite in the clear. Still, here we are. Or rather, here are friends Whitney Call and Mallory Everton, the co-writers and stars of the slight, mighty silly, improbably likable comedy “Recovery,” about sisters on a mission to rescue their grandmother from her assisted living facility in Washington state — a film which premiered at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival almost exactly a year after the country shut down, making the previous edition one of its first casualties.
In February 2020, Jamie (Call) and Blake Jerikovic (Everton) are riding, if not high, at least hopeful. Jamie is celebrating her 30th birthday. Blake is celebrating what looks to be a promising first date. Both are making plans. Then comes March. Who can forget the endless month in which everything came to a screeching halt? They learn that Nana’s assisted living facility is in the throes of an outbreak. A call to their grandma confirms that she’s not safe. And so the siblings hit the road, starting in New Mexico headed northwest. They’ve got masks and wipes, bottles and bottles of water, one audiobook and a strange playlist.
Much of the film finds us quarantined with the pair in their car. Sometimes Blake is in the passenger seat. When she is, she’s scrolling to see if Scott (Noah Kershisnik) — the fellow of the one good date — has replied to a GIF she sent. She knows this is somewhat lame, but… One of the pleasures of the film is watching the ways the two characters toggle between feminist self-awareness and doubt.
Sometimes Jamie takes a break from driving. She too has a guy causing her agita. A fourth-grade teacher, Jamie left two mice with one of her students. To say that Jacob is smitten is uncomfortable understatement. Jamie without fail corrects every instance of Jacob’s overfamiliarity. (Baylee Thornock and Jessica Drolet amuse as the voices of the besotted boy and his angry mom.)
These running gags begin rather flat, then over the span of the misadventure come to life. This reanimating has everything to do with the irrepressible rapport between Everton and Call. The pair have been best friends since they were nine, and they have infused their characters with loving, zany, finish-each-other’s-sentences chemistry.
The sisters they portray get along almost too well. Fortunately, they’ve got a familial foil. Julia Jolley portrays older sister Erin. One of the many lessons of the pandemic has been that there is indeed a way to be both clueless and imperious. Living closer to their grandmother, Erin was the obvious choice to get to Nana (Anne Sward Hansen) first, but she and her hubby are on a cruise. Clearly, they don’t believe anything said about the contagion.
Cinematographer Brenna Empey gives the highways twisting through Utah and Idaho their due. The scenery is often sun-bathed and fetching. The oddballs along the way are a mixed bag. A guy straddling a Harley mistakes their honking for highway aggression and spits at them — which is gross, aggressive and, yes, wounding because this kind-hearted pair haven’t started divvying the world into pro-mask/pro-freedom folks.
It’s a long drive from New Mexico to grandma’s facility, which the 80-minute film makes fleet work of. The sisters are fast talkers. That might be because they know what each is going to say and don’t need pregnant pauses. But it also feels as if the writers and co-director Stephen Meeks are in a hurry to stake a claim to the shared gags of the pandemic before others get there. After all, the Lysol spray bottles and wipes, the sweatpant uniforms, the doom scrolling, the countless jigsaw puzzles are things we and every comedy writer under the sun shared.
Beyond the palpable adoration the leads have for each other, “Recovery” is just an extended comedy sketch. Some of the comedy lands, other times it makes you wonder, too soon? How it hits you may have everything to do with how you feel about the devastation wrought by COVID-19. A lot of Nanas didn’t make it in those first month — and not because there wasn’t a Jamie and a Mallory there to rescue them.
Still, it’s far too easy to forget the most glaring achievement of “Recovery” and other COVID-inspired, pandemic-produced films: Indie filmmakers were fighting the good fight, making movies. Even more than some of the gags in “Recovery,” that’s cause for a smile.