It’s almost unfortunate how familiar The Humans will feel to many. A professional dealing with health issues causing lost opportunities at work. A young couple convincing themselves that a dank, overly priced apartment is a good idea. A long-time married couple constrained by time and obligation.
Stephen Karam, in his directorial debut, adapts his own stage play bringing each of these stories coloured with anxiety, heartbreak, and existential dread into one of the most honest depictions of day to day life in 2021.
The Humans gathers a family together in the creaky, dripping New York City apartment of Brigid Blake (Beanie Feldstein) and Richard (Steven Yeun) for Thanksgiving dinner. Brigid’s sister, Aimee, (Amy Schumer), parents (Richard Jenkins and Jayne Houdyshell), and grandmother (June Squibb) arrive from Pennsylvania and throughout the evening, harsh revelations are uncovered.
Bolstered by a wonderful script, the ensemble cast is impeccable. Schumer and Houdyshell are standouts with Schumer pared-down in a performance we haven’t yet seen from her. Houdyshell is the only crossover from the play to the film, and absolutely shines as Brigid and Aimee’s mother. Her subtle turn is devastating and in a simple moment, deciding what she wants for dessert, she breaks all of our hearts.
A particular delight is the family dynamic created by the cast and Karam. Each biting remark and take down is followed by gentle ribbing and loving embraces. Whether healthy or not, most families will see themselves in the Blake’s.
Karam’s direction is confident, creating tension where there is none. The imposing score, close up shots of the many disrepairs of the apartment, and strong framing of scenes builds an intense atmosphere that will leave audiences uncomfortably on edge. Karam injects a unique energy to this stage-to-screen adaptation by introducing many cinematic elements while preserving the restrictive feeling of the stage.
The Humans is a delicate piece driven by angst in every corner. A meditation on the challenges of today’s middle class, Karam emphasizes the horror and unease of a generation.