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#TIFF21 Review: The Humans (Special Presentations)

September 15, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Writer-director Stephen Karam confidently adapts his own Tony-winning play for the screen in The Humans, crafting an intense and engaging family drama that comes to life with the help of a small but mighty six person ensemble cast.

The film unfolds over the course of Thanksgiving Day, and centres around the Blake family. Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) has just moved into a rundown Manhattan apartment with her partner Richard (Stephen Yeun). Brigid’s parents, Erik (Richard Jenkins) and Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell), have driven in from Scranton, Pennsylvania for the holiday, along with her sister Aimee (Amy Schumer) and their grandma Momo (June Squibb), who is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s.

Karam crafts some amusing comic moments exploiting the human foibles of his characters. But The Humans turns serious as old tensions between family members are resurrected, and the teasing and barbs that they share, which at first start off as mostly playful, start to really sting. Karam’s script deftly probes post-9/11 anxieties in New York, as Jenkins’s character fears the possibility of another terrorist attack, but the story could work in any modern era with its examination of family troubles and economic worries.

The film is brought to the screen through some interesting cinematography by Lol Crawley, that really captures the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in a cramped apartment with this family. Crawley’s often foreboding camerawork, with the characters framed in wide shots from outside doorways, as well as ominous, lingering inserts of stains on the wall or pipes running along the ceiling, makes it feel like we are watching a low-key horror movie.

The film doesn’t quite deliver the emotional impact that I wanted, and can feel a little too boxed in at times. But The Humans is still a solid character drama, helped mightily by the strength of its writing and performances. Jenkins (playing a far more grounded version of his eccentric father from Kajillionaire) and Houdyshell (reprising her Tony-winning role from the stage) are standouts as parents realizing they are no longer in touch with their kids, and Yeun impresses in a supporting role as the almost too nice future son-in-law.

Public Screenings:

Sunday, September 12th – 1:30 PM at VISA Screening Room at the Princess of Wales

Sunday, September 12th – 7:00 PM at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (Canada)

Saturday, September 18th – 1:00 PM at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (Canada)

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9th to 18th.

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