November 26TH, 2021
MOVIE: THE HUMANS
STARRING: BEANIE FELDSTEIN, JUNE SQUIBB, STEVEN YEUN, RICHARD JENKINS, AMY SCHUMER, JAYNE HOUDYSHELL
DIRECTED BY: STEPHEN KARAM
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
The holiday season is never easy for anyone. It’s a scary time. Families will gather for a meal, or a person will be alone with their thoughts, remembering the people they have lost, or never had. Many will have fun with people they have not seen in some time or grandchildren they can’t wait to give a big hug to. All of that stuff is something that can give us anxiety. That sense of dread during the holiday is persistent in Stephen Karam’s film adaptation of his Broadway play The Humans. It’s about a family gathering for Thanksgiving in a beat up New York city duplex apartment. There’s much to catch up on, from new engagements, parents getting older, grandma struggling with dementia, and old family traditions. It all amounts to that real experience of being with family, making The Humans an unsettling mix of horror and humor.
The setting is the new apartment of Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and Richard (Steven Yeun), an old duplex in Manhattan, which was constructed during WWII, so it has problems similar to what Tom Hanks went through in The Money Pit. The walls creak, the building is sandwiched in between other buildings, the ceiling has leaks, the lights go out, and the spacing is the typical New York squeeze. This thanksgiving, however, the idea is to warm the new place, inviting Brigid’s dad Erik (Richard Jenkins), mother Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell), sister Aimee (Amy Schumer), and grandma Momo (June Squibb). The narrative revolves around the various conversations between these characters, rotating from living room to kitchen, and upstairs and downstairs. The dialogue is often scattered, with multiple convos taking place at once, then slowly each character revealing their often flustered, and incredibly human states of mind.
There’s arguably no main character here, where the dialogue sounds perfectly like a stage play adapted for the screen, but each member of the family briefly getting a moment to lament. Brigid is stressed over the state of the house, the pressure of hosting the family, and her own career choices. Richard is more subdued, often in support of Brigid, and willing to lend an ear to her grieving family. Erik is getting older, having nightmares, stressing about the state of his daughters, and not letting on about the fractured relationship with his wife. Deirdre is the ball of stress- undoubtedly the best performance from Houdyshell- unwilling to let on to how difficult her life is, taking care of Momo, and only wanting her daughters to be happy. Aimee is struggling after breaking up with her girlfriend, often feeling behind in her success to what Brigid has achieved already. Momo is the other stress, often catatonic, but also tends to walk around if nobody is watching. This is family. These are the typical stressors and Karam adds to the pain with dark hallways, dilapidated living quarters, as the home crumbles, so do the relationships with this family.
What worked so well in The Humans is the natural approach it takes, unlike other staged productions turned movie, the dialogue flows with an authentic tambor. There’s also not a purposeful focus on a character stepping up to deliver their monologue. The Cinematography from Lol Crowley moves around the rooms like a boxer, bouncing from side to side, capturing a character in their own personal space, then moving on to the next. It’s when characters are found alone, walking down the dark corridors, stuck in a room where the light has gone out, this is when The Humans becomes a straight up horror movie, capturing the sense of fear that is always present inside us.
The crux of The Humans becomes that the narrative can often feel crowded, where certain characters take a backseat to others, which is not because of poor writing, but where character plots have more muscle than others. The production factor turns from family drama to true horror in wild shifts, unexpected, but also unique. The bigger surprise is Amy Schumer, who proves she can perfectly blend her humor and natural honesty as an actor; And the major highlights are Jenkins and Houdyshell who deliver excellent performances without trying hard. It all comes together through the direction of Stephen Karam, transferring his stage work to a theatrical experience, which both honors his roots, and proves his production is worthy for cinema. Plenty of audiences will relate to this story, it’s just like all of us, it’s incredibly Human.
THE HUMANS IS CURRENTLY PLAYING ON SHOWTIME AND IN SELECT THEATERS FROM A24.
Written by: Leo Brady