What is the best way to avoid awkward and tension filled family meals this Thanksgiving season? Showtime has you covered with the opportunity to watch a different family experience an extremely awkward and tense dinner instead! Stephen Karam takes his own play and brings it to the big screen as well as the small screen. The Humans drops its audience into a rundown and historic duplex in New York City as the Blake family arrives for a family dinner together. What could possibly go wrong?
Let’s set up the players, shall we? The patriarch of the Blake clan is played by no other than Richard Jenkins himself. Jenkins is one of those character actors who never gets enough credit (despite having a few Oscar nominations under his belt). Fair from his farcical turn as a dad in Step Brothers, Jenkins’ role in this film is secretive, intense, and judgmental. There is a mystery about him and he gets to flex his chops in a haunting final sequence that left me perturbed to say the least. Jayne Houdyshell is the under-appreciated addition in the film as the performer with the least amount of name recognition. Don’t let that fool you…she is powerful in her silent moments and her biting barbs in conflict. Amy Schumer gives an uncharacteristic dramatic turn, and she carries her character’s baggage with insecurity and false smiles Beanie Feldstein continues her dramatic streak with a strong showing as the want-to-be artist at odds with her parents (one barb she threw at her mom was savage). Steven Yeun is the awkward and offbeat partner of Feldstein’s who brings a fresh and different approach to the situation. Finally, June Squibb is perfect as the dementia-reddened grandmother who is killing it in every scene.
That was a lot about the actors and characters, right? To be honest, this is a self-contained drama (channeling its play roots) that lives and dies by the performances…don’t worry, they all deliver the goods. But what about their actions and dialogue? Does Karam’s play translate well into the cinematic realm? There is plenty of drama and tension to throw around here. Each actor gets plenty to work with and their pre-film relationships feel real and genuine. The different reveals and mysteries thrown in add tension well and pack a punch.
But directing a film is quite different from a play…does Karam rise to the occasion? Tension…is…real I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the mounting tensions to blow. For every blown light bulb that brings snarky and judgmental comments, there were plenty of hairs standing on end for me. The shake up the visuals, the camera navigates this dark and claustrophobic setting that is perfect for the story being told. Plenty is said about dreams in this film and when Karam begins to tease something less than ordinary in the duplex, the film really kicks into gear. The final moments are shocking and anxiety inducing for not only the characters but for the audience as well.
But who really wants to spend time experiencing such discomfort when you can get that from your own family? The Humans hit on something truly human (duh) and relatable. If this doesn’t sound like your kind of film…it probably isn’t. If you appreciate when a film can deliver a moving and relatable experience in a truly artistic way, then you won’t be disappointed by this one.