Stephen Karam’s 2016 Tony-winning play The Humans has been hailed by critics for holding a great mirror to New York City’s hard-scrabble inhabitants in the wake of 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. However, the A24 film version, Karam’s feature directorial debut, arrives in theaters and on Showtime at an intriguing time, taking on an additional level of significance during a global pandemic.
The Humans follows Erik Blake (Jenkins), who has gathered three generations of his Pennsylvania family to celebrate Thanksgiving at his daughter Brigid’s (Beanie Feldstein) apartment in lower Manhattan. As darkness falls outside and eerie things start to go bump in the night, the group’s deepest fears are laid bare. Houdyshell, who played Erik’s wife Deidre onstage, reprises her Tony-winning role here, with Steven Yeun playing Richard, Brigid’s boyfriend, and Schumer as Brigid’s lawyer-on-the-rocks sister Aimee. June Squibb stars as Momo, Erik’s mother who is wheelchair-bound and battles Alzheimer’s.
The entire film, and play (which was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and won the 2016 Tony for Best Play) takes place in Brigid’s new, large, pipe-bearing NYC apartment that has water bugs the size of rats. The family bickers, jokes and discusses the challenges they’re weathering in their middle-class lives.
“People know what it means to be in an enclosed space with their families,” explained Karam about how The Humans continues to speak in a Covid-era world with “a story that is so much about the fears of a family, the way they are loved, and how their anxieties are teased out in a lockdown experience.”
“It’s hard to separate the love from the pain with those people who know you the best,” he adds about The Humans‘ weight, which centers on a family who is “yearning for an easier love.”
“Our families are a constant negotiation,” said Schumer. “If you can hang on to each other, it seems like a good idea. That’s something we found during the pandemic.”
The film premiered at Toronto in September and hit U.S. theaters November 24.
Check out the panel video above.
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