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The Pandemic Stories of SXSW 2021

We couldn’t have come out of 2020 without films inspired by the pandemic—for better or for worse—with several premiering this year at SXSW. Certainly, it would be interesting to see how filmmakers would adapt their approaches with regards to restrictions, but also how they’d approach the subject of a global crisis. Considering we’re still in this pandemic, it was exciting to see how they got creative with their methods. In the end, we were given films with uplifting messages that offered some catharsis for viewers.

Language Lessons

After his husband surprises him with virtual Spanish lessons, Adam (Mark Duplass) will connect with his teacher Cariño (Natalie Morales) on an unimaginable level, as both their lives take difficult turns over the course. Written and directed by Morales, Language Lessons doesn’t specifically take place during a pandemic, but its story of a virtual relationship and how that friendship can uplift in dark times is such a beautiful message to showcase right now.

As we’ve spent the past year only able to connect through screens, this film takes that idea to a new level, offering some truly emotional performances. Duplass, who serves as co-writer as well, really shines and gives what I’ve found to be his best career performance. The chemistry between him and Morales is so tangible, as this platonic friendship is developed. We’re given such a raw look at friendship and love, but most importantly, why meaningful connections matter so much.

Though the method in which it’s shot is not groundbreaking, I do find it to be a great way to tell stories in a socially-distanced world. The dual-screen aspect does get a little tiring by the midpoint, but I somewhat attribute that to our overall burnout. You’re really here for the story that evolves in such a joyous way, grips you tight, and steals your heart in the end.

The End of Us

Perhaps the most accurate portrayal of life this past year is The End of Us. The film follows Nick (Ben Coleman) and Leah (Ali Vingiano) who break up just as Covid-19 hits and are stuck cohabiting due to quarantine. It’s an endearing comedy-drama that tackles everything, and I mean everything. It shows the initial paranoia and precautions, influx in relationships ending, job loss, general lifestyle adjustments, and our favorite… doom scrolling.

Writing and directing duo Steven Kanter and Henry Loevner have done a great job summing up 2020 through the lens of a harsh breakup. The two leads had a nice dynamic and their banter felt effortless; with both having some great comedic moments. It is such a realistic and relatable film, but again, still maintains a level of lightheartedness throughout that we can all use right now.

How It Ends

Written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones and her husband Daryl Wein, How It Ends follows Liza (Lister-Jones) as she enjoys one last day before the impending end. As she wanders around Los Angeles with her younger self (Cailee Spaeny), making their way to one final party, she runs into old friends and reflects on life.

The film has charm and offers a fun way to do a socially-distanced film without it being about the pandemic itself. It’s an entertaining dark comedy filled with recognizable faces popping up throughout, including Olivia Wilde, Fred Armisen, Lamorne Morris, Helen Hunt, and a bunch of others.

I did find those cameos sort of carrying the film though, as the plot itself becomes a bit convoluted because of them. So it turns into more of a watch-who-pops-up-next, rather than about the story. But overall, an interesting film with a unique premise.


This film follows two sisters who head out on a road trip to rescue their grandmother from her nursing home, as the US sees Covid-19 cases surging. Recovery is a great indie treat, starring Whitney Call and Mallory Everton, who both wrote the screenplay, with Everton playing triple-duty directing alongside Stephen Meek. This tight-knit, collaborative effort is perhaps why the film feels so effortless and delightful.

Much like The End of Us, this film serves as a time capsule of what the early Covid days were like; keeping a lighthearted tone throughout. But it goes beyond its pandemic story to offer a fantastic road trip comedy on its own. The two leads are so charming and their comedy plays well off one another; with a lot of lines feeling improvised. Their dynamic feels authentic and provides so many great, relatable laughs the whole ride.

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