You may not leave The Humans loving the time you spent with them, but there could certainly be glimpses of intimate recognition with the Blake’s. The sextet is gathered in the shabby and sparsely decorated Chinatown duplex of Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and her boyfriend Richard (Steven Yeun). Visiting from Scranton for Thanksgiving are parents Erik (Richard Jenkins) and Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell) along with the dementia addled matriarch Momo (June Squibb). The other daughter is Aimee (Amy Schumer), suffering from her own disease and a breakup that she’s not over.
Adapting his own Tony award winning play, Stephen Karam’s afternoon with this brood starts awkwardly like many Turkey Day gatherings. Erik complains about finances and sneaks off to corners of the apartment to check the score of the Detroit Lions game. That’s one sign something could be off as no one outside of the Motor City truly cares about that. Deirdre drops hints that Brigid and Richard should tie the knot while Dad insists their new abode needs a serious caulk. Aimee’s intestinal challenges keeps her frequently confined to the creaky second floor bathroom while surfing her ex-girlfriend’s social media. And, of course, too many alcoholic beverages are imbibed.
There’s a lot of chatter in The Humans about the significant life stuff occurring inside and outside the dingy walls. It’s also done with a pitch black humor that seems appropriate given a family’s familiarity with one another. There are sly digs about Deirdre’s weight and questionable email abilities, Brigid’s career mishaps, and Momo’s near catatonic state. Richard is the relative bystander trying to keep the meal timed. He seems more comfortable admitting past depression while the Blake’s stoic Midwestern background prevents that sort of forthrightness.
The seventh character is the apartment. The sounds and looks of New York City living are on full display. The walls that threaten to close in on themselves. A city with famous landscapes, but the couple residing in it are given a drab interior courtyard view. Kudos are due to the sound technicians and production designers.
As more secrets are divulged as the day wears on, they aren’t portrayed as the seismic events that a more histrionic pic would treat them. That’s a bit ironic considering the source material. This is an event that will likely happen next year and Erik will still pretend to care what the Lions are doing. No one is truly enjoying themselves in The Humans. Watching the misery is made tolerable by the company of actors playing them. Jenkins and his trading between concerned dad, boozy philosopher, and snarky houseguest is compelling. Schumer is playing against type with supreme unconfident tendencies. Squibb’s fleeting moment of clarity is both a triumphant and sad highlight. The let’s get through this hug that Feldstein and Yeun’s new couple share as the dour festivities kick off may produce a knowing smile.
That all said, I’m not sure The Humans would be nearly as worthwhile if not for Houdyshell. She is the lone holdover from Broadway and she’s magnificent and heartbreaking. The insults thrown Deirdre’s way are subtle much of the day. They are not so subtle when said by her family members when they think she’s out of earshot (something almost impossible in this setting). I wanted to hug her. That’s partly due to the slights she suffers, but I think I wanted to embrace the actress too for her terrific performance.
*** (out of four)