I’ve been on record saying that I almost never like pandemic set films. Too often, the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown that ensued are grafted on to tales that didn’t need to be set in 2020, or they lean into bad memories as a crutch. As a potential flavoring? Sure, that can work. Most of the time, though, the flicks just haven’t worked for me. So, The Same Storm is a fairly notable experience. The movie is set during the worst days of 2020, but has a varied enough focus, with a clear desire to explore honest emotions, that it works. Plus, it’s also a celebration of art and the way acting brings people together, so that’s just an added bonus.
The Same Storm could have been, frankly, an unbearable experience. Why relive something that we all struggled with? Well, luckily the movie isn’t interested in being misery porn. Instead, the flick seeks to remind you of the emotions, without necessarily becoming overbearing. The film has a light enough touch to bring you back to specific moments, while never going over the edge. It’s all about human connections, from top to bottom.
The film is a portrait of the lives of twenty-four characters during the spring and summer of 2020. I don’t want to focus on a plot description, because there isn’t quite a plot here. It’s more just a collection of shorts, some of which tie in together and have characters appearing in multiple segments. What it does do, however, is tackle almost all of the elements we dealt with during the pandemic, especially during lockdown.
Some of the things we see involve a cam-girl type sex worker (Mary-Louise Parker) and an overworked emergency room nurse (Raúl Castillo), which then brings us to a mother daughter relationship (Elaine May plays the mother). There’s also parents (Rosemarie DeWitt and Ron Livingston) dealing with their child doing school virtually, taking it out on his teacher (Alison Pill). The teacher then deals with her politically diverse siblings during a Zoom birthday celebration for their mother (Judith Light). That’s just the top of the iceberg, too.
It’s clear that the cast was just utterly thrilled to be given this opportunity. Even beyond being a bit of a rare gig at the time, this is just an ensemble you rarely get on screen. Elaine May! She’s sorely missed on screen, to say the least. Seeing actors and actresses like Raúl Castillo, Rosemarie DeWitt, Joshua Leonard, Judith Light, Ron Livingston, Sandra Oh, Mary-Louise Parker, Alison Pill, and more, they’re all in. Whether it’s a funny segment or a sad one, they give it their all. More of the cast includes the likes of Jin Ha, Moses Ingram, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Cory Michael Smith, and more.
Filmmaker Peter Hedges has such empathy for his characters, he pretty much single-handedly makes this the sort of work you’re willing to invest in. He actually has a genius move of showing at the top his cast organizing and getting ready for the shoot. Seeing the actors and actresses preparing to basically operate their own camera and design the set is not just entertaining and interesting, it shows how invested they are in The Same Storm. It deftly sets the stage for what’s to come, so kudos to Hedges for that.
The Same Storm is a varied work that explores a very specific period of time that never feels craven or opportunistic. Instead, it is full of emotion, curious about how people dealt with life, and creative in a number of ways. Even though we shouldn’t have many films of this ilk, having someone like Hedges at the helm makes it more than worthwhile. It’s one of his more unique movies, and one of his better ones, too. As an example of communal art, it’s also surprisingly affecting. Kudos again to Hedges for pulling it off.