Review: 'The Humans' Adapts the Stephen Karam Play for the Screen

by Kitty Drexel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday November 23, 2021

'The Humans'
'The Humans'  (Source:A24)

"The Humans" by Tony award-winning playwright Stephen Karam has been adapted for the big screen. Karam is both director and screenwriter of the film, which is produced by arts film company A24. It stars Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell, Amy Schumer, Beanie Feldstein, Steven Yeun, and June Squibb as the Blake family. It is in Theaters and available to stream on Showtime beginning on November 24.

Three generations of the Blake family have gathered in a dilapidated apartment to celebrate Thanksgiving in lower Manhattan. The walls are paper thin, every door squeaks, and the ceiling pipes leak, but the Blakes are determined to enjoy the holiday together. Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and Richard (Steven Yeun) hope to win over Brigid's parents (Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell). Aimee (Amy Schumer) tries to reconnect, while Momo (June Squibb) makes a break for the boiler room. As night falls, unspoken secrets and fears are mumbled in airy hallways and dire corners.

"The Humans" film begins with two minutes of long, wide shots of the sky in the back alley behind the apartment in which the movie is shot. Opening credits roll, and the camera's view grows narrower. What first appears to be an expansive brick alley is revealed to be a claustrophobic passage. It's a simple metaphor for the relationships and perspectives of the characters of the movie. Fortunately, the film gets better.

In Karam's stage play, the set consists of two stories in one apartment. The movie version doesn't show us both stories at the same time. Karam instead keeps the camera close to the actors as they navigate both stories back and forth, up and down. This allows the apartment to be its own character in the film in ways it can't be in the play. The apartment speaks to the viewer and the family through clouded windows and bursting light bulbs. It envelops the film's characters, swallows them, and becomes a place to fear rather than a container for fears. It's eerie, sometimes creepy, but not what anyone over the age of 12 would consider scary.

While the entire cast does well in their roles, of note to EDGE readers will be Schumer as lawyer/lesbian sister Aimee. Schumer takes an unexpected deep dive into a dramatic, vulnerable character. It's a departure from her usual audacious but callous heroines. While Aimee doesn't exist long in an exposed state, she's exposed long enough for Schumer to show the audience that she's capable of carrying short dramatic scenes. This could indicate that Schumer is expanding her repertoire. Time will only tell if Schumer turns a corner in her career.

"The Humans" made its critically acclaimed world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.


"The Humans" is in theaters and streaming on Showtime on Nov. 24.