The Humans

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Humans
dir-scr Stephen Karam
prd Louise Lovegrove, Stephen Karam
with Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell, Amy Schumer, Beanie Feldstein, Steven Yeun, June Squibb
release US 24.Nov.21,
UK 31.Dec.21
21/US A24 1h48

jenkins schumer squibb

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The Humans
Ambitiously adapting his award-winning play for the big screen, Stephen Karam creates a vivid fantastical sensibility around a naturalistic family gathering. It feels very theatrical, with its single set, small cast and a script that centres on themes instead of plotting. So as a movie it feels meandering and more than a little pretentious as it heavily signposts the deeper ideas. Thankfully the ace cast make it riveting.
On Thanksgiving, the Blake family gathers as Brigid (Feldstein) and her boyfriend Richard (Yeun) move into a downtown Manhattan duplex. The grubby apartment has water leaks and dodgy electrics, and the movers are stuck in a traffic jam in Queens. So Brigid's parents Erik and Deirdre (Jenkins and Houdyshell) get on with blessing the flat in their Catholic tradition, while sister Aimee (Schumer) struggles with both a bad breakup and physical problems. Erik's mother (Squibb), who has advanced Alzheimer's, requires attention from time to time. And each person's internal struggles are about to boil over.
Interaction bristles with lifelong rhythms, including inside jokes, warm memories and gentle teasing that has a vicious edge to it. Old family tensions are quickly apparent, hidden behind smiles. And there's also a powerful sense of the deeper affection between everyone. Karam's direction quietly captures the distinct feelings swirling in between the lines, while continually cutting to things like cracked plaster and murky windows, with added noise coming from other apartments and the building itself. Yes, the foundations are creaking.

Each actor creates a distinct character with his or her own perspective on various issues raised in conversations along the way. This helps ground the film in realism, drawing out opinions and ideas without pushing any specific points. It also makes the characters unusually complex and layered. Jenkins and Houdyshell are particularly strong, with their distinct thoughts and quiet observations revealing unexpected things about them. Schumer and Feldstein are also terrific as sisters who speak their minds, often when they shouldn't. Yeun provides a relaxed outsider's point of view, while Squibb adds her own unexpected jolts.

There isn't a plot to speak of, but this long, indulgent film has a trajectory as night falls and multiple light bulbs burn out, plunging the maze-like flat into inky darkness. By the end, it feels more like a horror movie in which the never-spoken barriers within this family seem to become a threatening physical force. The earthy honesty of the dialog makes the film both funny and darkly emotive, and what's happening under the surface feels genuinely frightening. Although Karam's artful approach leaves it slightly out of reach.

cert 15 themes, language 11.Nov.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall