Amy Schumer, dramatic actress.
The gloriously unfiltered stand-up comedian is best known for studio rom-coms “Trainwreck” and “I Feel Pretty,” and creating and starring in her Emmy-winning sketch series “Inside Amy Schumer.” But aside from a small supporting role as a widow in 2017 war drama “Thank You For Your Service,” Schumer has rarely had a chance to flex her serious acting chops.
That all changes in “The Humans,” which premiered at Toronto International Film Festival Sunday. The intimate chamber drama is adapted from Stephen Karam’s 2016 Broadway play, which won four Tony Awards including best play and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama.
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The film follows a young woman named Brigid (Beanie Feldstein), who moves into a rundown Chinatown apartment in New York with her affable boyfriend, Richard (Steven Yeun). She invites her parents, Erik (Richard Jenkins) and Deidre (Jayne Houdyshell), sister Aimee (Amy Schumer) and ailing grandmother Momo (June Squibb) over for Thanksgiving dinner, where family secrets are unearthed over the course of a harrowing but often warmly funny evening.
Jenkins and Houdyshell are sensational as a couple overcome by marital issues and existential dread, as Erik’s mom, Momo, gradually succumbs to Alzheimer’s disease. But it’s Schumer who runs away with the film.
The actress is quietly heartbreaking as the chronically ill lawyer Aimee, who suffers from a serious inflammatory bowel disease that could have life-threatening complications. She imbues Aimee with warmth and genuine care, not wanting to trouble her family with her job and health concerns. But the rare moments when she does tearfully break down – over a long-term ex-girlfriend, and the possibilities of surgery and cancer – are devastating, thanks to Schumer’s understated and lived-in performance.
She also undercuts intense family conversations about death and aging with droll one-liners. (“You’re right,” she deadpans. “Dinner is the perfect place to discuss what to do with your dead body.”)
Before casting her, Karam had seen Schumer in “Trainwreck” and “Inside Amy Schumer,” and always felt “she was likely capable of doing anything if given the chance.”
“I didn’t sense she had any limits,” Karam tells USA TODAY. “On set, she completely disappeared into the role. It was amazing.”
“She wasn’t interested in being flashy or taking the easy route – she focused only on what felt true,” Karam adds. “The entire company… showed up for each other in every moment present and listening.”
Film critic Rendy Jones agreed that Schumer is a standout, tweeting that she ”stole the show.” Indiewire called her “compellingly naturalistic,” while the Guardian said she’s “a particular surprise in her first convincing dramatic performance.”
Along with its knockout performances, “Humans” may be the most unsettling movie ever made about the horrors of Manhattan real estate. The camera lingers on shots of rusting pipes, chipped paint and dusty window panes, as the walls close in on the increasingly fraught family. The characters’ dialogue is intermittently interrupted by the deafening stomps of a noisy upstairs neighbor, adding to the claustrophobia.