Social Distance movie review: Wholesome Netflix anthology transcends paranoia around coronavirus

Netflix anthology Social Distance speaks of hope and humanity at a time when the world faces a global threat, both medically and socially.

Shreya Paul October 17, 2020 10:57:47 IST

4/5

An eight-part account of post-COVID-19 times can never be an easy watch. While we try to battle this unprecedented “normal” in our lives, who would want a cruel reminder of how we go about it?

Netflix’s latest anthology is much more than just a reality check. Created by Orange Is the New Black writer Hilary Weisman Graham and executive-produced by Jenji Kohan, Social Distance offers sweet nuggets of stories in which people from various walks of life navigate the global pandemic as best they can, and yet, manage to evoke a sense of undying hope within viewers.

The timeline follows events in the months of April and May of this year, when the world still grappled with the how’s and what’s of coronavirus. Precisely because of this tooth-grinding familiarity, the stories never feel didactic.

Instead, they seamlessly play out one after another, feeling almost like we were rifling through pages of our personal diaries.

The anthology covers a wide range of subjects within the umbrella of a coronavirus-affected world, with each episode underlining a theme. The offerings are so varied, that each section of the audience could easily find their favourites within the eight stories.

Delete All Future Events

The first episode of the series titled Delete All Future Events (writer: Hilary Weisman Graham) deals with the much-important theme of self-control, an aspect that many have struggled with during the lockdown. Ike, a professional hairstylist, fights to remain afloat during a period when he loses his job and undergoes a breakup.

Social Distance movie review Wholesome Netflix anthology transcends paranoia around coronavirus

Ike with his "boo"

Despite earnest group therapy sessions, the pandemic does not help his history of alcoholism, and he soon relapses. An embarrassing video upload later, Ike finds himself loveless, lonely, and hardly sober. Not the ideal climax, right? Wrong. This is where the magic of Social Distance kicks in — its narratives are never exalted life-changing experiences, but little reformations introduced on a daily basis to administer a bigger, long-term change.

Humane Animal Trap

Social Distance movie review Wholesome Netflix anthology transcends paranoia around coronavirus

Neil and Caroline Currier chat with their friends online

On a similar strain, writer Heather Jeng Bladt’s Humane Animal Trap is a beautiful meta-narrative of a retired husband desperately trying to bring stasis into his retired life with his wife, a frontline nurse, who most enjoys the adrenaline rush at the Operation Theatre. Cautious and “boring” radiologist Neil Currier (Dylan Baker) then tries various means of emotional blackmail to deter his wife Caroline (Becky Ann Baker) from continuing with her risky job. And almost like the “humane” animal trap that he lays down for the notorious raccoon in their backyard, Caroline’s spirit threatens to fizzle out amidst the afternoon naps and evening strolls of a sedentary life, till she makes a final choice.

A Celebration of the Human Life Cycle

Social Distance movie review Wholesome Netflix anthology transcends paranoia around coronavirus

A Celebration of the Human Life Cycle (writer: Tara Herrmann) revolves around an online prayer meet for a Spanish family dealing with the loss of their patriarch. The emotional, motley group gathers to mourne the loss of a once-proud figure who lived a full life and left an indelible mark in the life of his three children and his longtime best friend.

The family is well aware of the inappropriateness of conducting such a sombre ceremony over the internet and things become hilariously worse when their favourite uncle (the best friend) can hardly figure out the sound buttons on the Zoom call. Funny and emotional, Herrmann deftly infuses the confusion of a group video call with the acute sentimentality of death.

Zero Feet Away

Zero Feet Away (writer: Anthony Natoli) follows a gay couple as they explore the concepts of monogamy and loyalty during their time together while they are locked indoors. Taking up the very relatable subject of modern relationships, Natoli focuses on a couple who thrive on being stark opposites. While one is "anal" about his precise requirements in the house, the other is satisfied just to vegetate on the couch, playing naming games with internet groups. The touching, quirky tale reaches its crescendo when the two drive each other up the wall and decide to add a "third element" in their equation only to realise they are more than sufficient for the other.

And we could all together/Go out on the ocean

Merritt Tierce weaves a heartwarming snippet on how the pandemic affected millions, especially the old and the young. Danielle Brooks stars in this short as a caregiver for the elderly. Her sincerity towards her job notwithstanding, her character struggles to juggle her professional commitments while looking after her young daughter, who is stuck alone at home since the mother cannot afford child care.

Social Distance movie review Wholesome Netflix anthology transcends paranoia around coronavirus

Still from And we could all together/Go out on the ocean

Running alongside Brooks' narrative is that of her patient's, a Black woman recovering from a throat operation. The lady's jibes are sharp as a needle as she demands her daughter, a teacher, to come meet her, and fulfill her duties as a child. The lady's taunts over the mechanical system that she uses to communicate provide the much-needed relief. Tierce paints a perfect picture of impatience and lovelessness in the beginning, only to alter it into one about love and care.

You Gotta Ding-Dong Fling-Flong the Whole Narrative

Herrmann creates yet another magical world with this short, and this time, one that includes stunning animation. The film highlights how a father struggles to handle his young son as his wife remains quarantined in a room, with gradually deteriorating health. Sprightly and imaginative, the son hardly has the patience or bandwidth to understand the implications of a health hazard. So the clueless-yet-well-meaning father 'explains' to him the "curse of the virus."

Social Distance movie review Wholesome Netflix anthology transcends paranoia around coronavirus

Still from You Gotta Ding-Dong Fling-Flong the Whole Narrative

Rapt in awe, the child listens and then concocts a monster in his head that torments him at night. Throughout the film, Herrmann creates a sense of panic, especially since the audience views it through the husband's lens. He worries about his wife and a probable future where they would have to pass on custody of their only son to his sister. Tensions build and the atmosphere gets consistently more oppressive. Herrmann underlines the unpredictable nature of the disease just at the climax when his wife recovers slightly to come out of her stupour and sing her son a song over the video chat. Calm prevails in the happy household yet again.

everything is v depressing rn

The constraints of indoor shooting and footage are hardly ever a deterrent for Social Distance. The series uses social media screenshots, clips from laptop screens, and phones in abundance that lends an authentic setting to a life overly exposed to technology, while confined within four walls. Using fitting technological set-ups like Zoom and Nest cameras to tell the stories, Social Distance delves into the aspects of isolation, human connection, self-evolution, and love.

Social Distance movie review Wholesome Netflix anthology transcends paranoia around coronavirus

Still from everything is v depressing rn

But the seventh episode in the anthology titled everything is v depressing rn takes it a notch higher by including the online gaming world as part of its narrative wheel. The VR (virtual reality) universe that the teen group is shown obsessing about, seems to draw home the confined spaces that the lockdown forcefully imposed on people.

Pomp and Circumstance

Social Distance movie review Wholesome Netflix anthology transcends paranoia around coronavirus

Pomp and Circumstance deals with two Black men's argument over the "right way" of their people to protesting against police brutality

More than just dealing with the effects of a global pandemic, Social Distance highlights threats that stand as the biggest challenge to humanity. The worldwide protests that ensued as a result of George Floyd’s death, find centre-stage in the last two stories, with Pomp and Circumstance focusing on the generational divide between two Black men regarding the “right way” of Black protest.

Social Distance instils in viewers a seed of thought that promises to outgrow the negativity around it.

The series transcends the pandemic and attacks the viruses that have long resided within our systems, and gives it a genuine tug to rid us of our inner demons.

Social Distance is currently streaming on Netflix.

Rating: ****

(All images from Netflix)

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