The Humans— Innovatively adapted for the screen by its playwright Stephen Karam
Stephen Karam writes plays that are not just entertainments but timely, meaningful reflections on the human condition.
When The Humans
ran Off-Broadway in 2015 and less than a year later on Broadway, what was going on in the real world was different than it is now that the movie adaptation is streaming at Shotime. Yet the Blakes' story is still much more than a typical family drama unspooling during a holiday. And the playwright's version for the screen intensifies its timeless adaptability as a meditation on what really makes our lives consequential. on
Karam's dinner party is still hosted at the apartment into which the Blakes' daughter Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) has just moved with boyfriend Richard (Steven Yeun). That makes it a celebration of their new life together as well as Thanksgiving. However, problems Brigid's parents and older sister Aimee (Amy Schumer) are coping with will still have to be brought to the table. Brigid and Richard's apartment still hardly represents any New Yorker's American Dream style duplex any more than retirement homes bought with job pensions do for their parents.
Living as we all do amidst the after-effects of the sense of disempowerment that caused people in places like Scranton to vote as they did in 1916 tend to make the movie more painful than fun to watch. Therefore, though the film adaptation was available to stream on Thanksgiving, a day calling for more upbeat entertainment.
That said, here's my take on the movie.
Do see it. It's one of the best stage-to-screen adaptations I've seen. It established Karam as a bravura adapter and director as well as playwright. The movie makes for a completely different experience than seeing it live was, even though the screenplay is faithful to the plot, dialogue and the characters' original roles. (For details about the plot, see my combined review of the Off-and-On-Broadway productions here).
While there's no need to have seen the source production, anyone who watchd it as a play will find it fascinating to see how Karam has let his characters remain true to their roles and interactions, yet give the movie a stunningly fresh and unique feel. That's because he opted not to follow the practice of transferring a single set play to the screen while opening up that set to multiple other locations.
In fact, Karam, and his crafts team have actually made that basement-to- street level- apartment an additional character. It's a master stroke that lets
that shabby interior serve as a metaphoric link with the human cast's sense of being caught up in an unsafe, uncertain, unpromising future. What's more, Karam has ratcheted up a film's ability to let camera shots close in on the actors' facial expressions with exceptionally long and intense such incidents.
Withe the set functioning as a character-like part of the plot, the audience also gets to wander in and out of the basement entry, along the hallways, up and down the stairs to the street-level dining area and kitchen.
Only the always spectacular Jayne Houdyshell is on board to reprise her stage role. (My above linked review of the staged version linked above includes the original cast and creative team, as well as links to other plays by Mr. Karam). And, though none of Houdyshell's current colleagues are big box office names, all inhabit their characters with a wonderful mix of imperfect but sympathetic humanity. For all their diffeerences and disagreements about life styles chosen, the way they remain close as a family ultimately gives this often depressing story an upbeat ending.
As Thanksgiving dinners tend to dish up too much food, so the the play also goes a bit overboard on the problems to be dealt with. But nowadays, that IS life.
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Adapted and directed for the screen
by Stephen Karam
Based on his play
Produced by Louise Lovegrove and
Cast: Richard Jenkins as Erik;
Jayne Houdyshell as Deirdre; Amy Schumer as Aimee;
Beanie Feldstein as Brigid;
Steven Yeun as Richsrd ;
June Squibb as Momo
Cinematography by Lol Crawley
Edited by Nick Houy
Music by Nico Muhly
Distributed for online viewing by
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer