Film - The Humans

This image shows, from left, June Squibb, Beanie Feldstein, Steven Yeun, Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell and Amy Schumer in a scene from ‘The Humans.’

Laughter and tears. Fun and disappointment. Affection and insults. Anxieties, hostilities, too much food, too much alcohol.

In other words: Thanksgiving.

This year, Thanksgiving stories in the news are about COVID, and how families will navigate inter-generational mingling. There’s none of that in Stephen Karam’s “The Humans,” a film entirely comprised of one Thanksgiving meal, based on a play written nearly a decade ago. But another plague hangs over the Blake family, whose table we join for 108 minutes: Economic pain. A struggling middle class. The American dream in tatters.

Somehow, the sense of impending doom, the feeling that dinner is heading to a dark denouement, is even more tangible onscreen. As is the claustrophobia. If the stage version felt uncomfortably confined to one apartment, the effect is yet more extreme here as the camera draws ever closer, honing in not only on faces but on hidden corners, even blotches on the ceiling and walls, as if to say: There’s no escape.

The place: A rundown apartment in Chinatown, where Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and boyfriend Richard (Steven Yeun) have invited her parents, Erik (Richard Jenkins) and Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell), grandmother Momo (June Squibb), and sister Aimee (Amy Schumer) for Thanksgiving.

A six-person cast can be hard to pull off if there’s a weak link. Luckily, there is not. What’s more, the banter among family members feels more than authentic — one feels these people have truly known each other forever. A lovely surprise is the understated, moving performance from Schumer as Aimee, who suffers from ulcerative colitis so severe that she’s lost her chance to be partner at her law firm. Her girlfriend has also left her, as we learn in a heartbreaking phone call she makes during a break from dinner.

Everyone at the table is suffering from economic instability — Brigid and Aimee because of careers that never took off, Erik and Deirdre because their long-held jobs, his at a private school and hers as an office manager, are threatened for various reasons.

Contentious moments like this promise a rougher evening as the hours tick by.

And yet — it’s a family. Love is tested, but it is, in the end, unconditional. As the bruised family scatters into the night, there’s only one thing we seem to know for sure: They’ll be gathering around the table, some table, again next year.

“The Humans,” an A24 release, has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of American for “some sexual material and language.” Running time: 108 minutes. Three stars out of four.

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