Review: Stress Positions


2020 was a year of major turmoil: COVID-19 was sweeping across the US; Biden started his first term as president; the murder of George Floyd sparked huge protests across the nation. Some films have set themselves during the quarantine period, with varying degrees of success. I mean, who wants to watch a movie depicting a major pandemic while we’re still living it?

Theda Hammel’s 2024 debut film Stress Positions is one of these films, but it manages to balance the lines of being a COVID movie while also relying on its comedic premise to poke fun at the ridiculousness its characters find themselves in. Does it accomplish those goals?

STRESS POSITIONS - Official Trailer - In Theaters April 19

Stress Positions
Director: Theda Hammel

Release Date: April 19, 2024
Rating: Not yet rated.

Stress Positions follows Terry Goon (John Early) as he tries to care for his recently injured/model nephew, Bahlul (Qaher Harhash). The two live in Terry’s (soon-to-be-ex) husband Leo’s (John Roberts) Brooklyn party house, along with their upstairs neighbor, Coco (Rebecca F. Wright). Terry attempts to keep Bahlul safe and isolated from Terry’s friends and separated husband, all of whom are eager to meet the mysterious model/nephew. 

Of course, things don’t stick to Terry’s plan. Busy with the divorce documents and setting up for Bahlul’s upcoming birthday, Terry throws his back out and calls for help from his best friend, Karla (Theda Hammel). Karla uses the opportunity to come over and meet Bahlul, setting off a chain of slapstick events and bringing in an ensemble of characters such as Karla’s girlfriend, Vanessa (Amy Zimmer), and delivery driver Ronald (Faheem Ali).

Carla stands in the party house.

From Neon.

Stress Positions is more than just a pandemic comedy. The film explores many other themes that often overlap. Themes like identity, surveillance, and the power of fiction are all woven into the overarching narrative. Hammel achieves this through the use of voice-overs with Karla and Bahlul, splitting the story up and allowing these characters to ruminate on their lives and their place in this strange world. Identity in Stress Positions is often filtered through ideas about ethnicity (there’s a running bit about how clueless most of the characters are when it comes to regions like the Middle East), and gender. 

Karla, especially, is adamant about helping Bahlul figure out who he is. His injury becomes a form of metamorphosis, and the final shedding of his cast before he runs away (complete with a dress and wig given by Coco) ushers in a new chapter of Bahlul’s life. While Hammel only suggests, it’s very possible that Bahlul is beginning a new life with a newfound identity of transness and womanhood. Bahlul’s exit into a new life away from the party house reinforces the “fiction is freedom” theme that is fought over between Karla and Vanessa, one of the major clues to the disintegration of their relationship.

Bahlul and Carla sit in the party house's backyard together.

From Neon.

With Hammel’s focus on identity comes the theme of surveillance. From TikTok to a hidden camera in Bahlul’s room, Stress Positions touches on how the lines become blurred between feeling seen and being watched. In recent years (and with TikTok’s potential banning in the US looming over our heads) surveillance on Black and Brown people in America, along with transgender people, has increased as legislation seeks to criminalize protestors fighting for social change. Trans people are also uniquely seen in America, with right-wing reactionaries being obsessed with trans people in bathrooms and sports. 

Stress Positions‘s subtextual conversations on fiction as both an escape and freedom, surveillance, and identity works to keep the film grounded in both the specific moment it reflects (which would be the summer of 2020) and current events in America. I think this is why the film works because I have always felt as if films that are set during COVID feel “too soon” rather than taking the tension and absurdity of the moment to apply to larger societal messages. Stress Positions pokes fun at the unmoored nature of living in quarantine, with Terry pausing a phone call to bang pots and pans to thank front-line health workers and following Coco around with a can of disinfectant.

Terry in a gas mask as he sprays money with disinfectant.

From Neon.

Stress Positions is not concerned with its characters being moral members of society. The characters often say or do things that are not politically correct or hurt those in their “bubble.” But, like the COVID-specific comedy, this works to enhance the overall themes and the hilarity of the events Terry finds himself in.

Theda Hammel delivers a film that is reflective of one of the most bizarre and frightening moments of the past few years (if not decades), while still delivering an overall hopeful message of the possibility of change. After all, the characters in Stress Positions are seeking to find freedom, whatever that might look like for them.




Stress Positions is an absolute blast, with a perfect blend of smart quips and slapstick humor that will make anyone laugh.

Sophia Schrock
Sophia (they/them) currently lives in Jersey City, NJ. They are passionate about queer cinema, horror, anything gothic, and their beloved cat Salem.