Photo | “Family Squares” – Unbounded Media
The pandemic has been with us long enough that books and movies about the situation are starting to proliferate, and “Family Squares,” now playing at the Crescent Theater, is a family dramedy set during that very recent past. It is a film about three generations of a family squabbling after the death of their matriarch, Grandma Mabel. The twist is it takes place during the early days of the pandemic, and most of the film takes place over Zoom. That’s where the title comes in — the family address each other from their “Brady Bunch”-esque squares.
It all sounds so contrived and, in the beginning, I feared it would be. Grandma Mabel (June Squibb), her two children (Henry Winkler and Margo Martindale) and all their children assemble on Zoom to say farewell and, with everyone observing virtually, Mabel passes away in her nursing home. The family members, who also include Judy Greer, Billy Magnussen, Timothy Simons (Jonah on “Veep!”) and Casey Wilson, all weep, carry on and generally compete with one another. I didn’t know how long the joke of everyone talking over everyone else on Zoom could sustain this film, but after the plot was set up, the characters truly emerged.
The setup is the scattered family members must hash out how they want to bury Grandma Mabel and, in a virtual meeting with the estate lawyer who is also a funeral director, it is revealed Grandma Mabel made a series of videos addressing her divided family and lobbing a few bombs meant to clear the air. She informs the family they have been keeping secrets from one another for years, and she knows this because they have all been telling their secrets to her. Of course, she reveals the secrets to everyone.
They range from financial indiscretions to accusations of favoritism to serious revelations, like the fact that one family member is not officially related by blood. Meanwhile, the woman she married in the last five years of her life (Ann Dowd) looks on and nurses her own emotional wounds. Not listed as the next of kin, she hires someone to stand in front of the nursing home and FaceTime Mabel’s body leaving the building. The gig economy, lockdowns, virtual funerals and whistleblowers all show up in this of-the-moment adventure.
Stephanie Laing, a former producer on “Veep,” wrote and directed the film, and it shows through the sharpness of the dialogue and the welcome presence of several “Veep” alums. Not only does Jonah show up, but his ever-chipper nemesis Richard is there, with actor Sam Richardson playing the combination funeral director/lawyer.
But it’s not all hilarious situations like the sister who rigs an elaborate lighting setup every time she calls in or the gig worker who has to sleep outside the nursing home. Amidst the family’s entertaining dysfunction, there were moments of genuine emotion and also some really recognizable and resonant pandemic-era touches. As the parent of a teenager, I found it particularly interesting when I realized a father and daughter were Zooming separately from their own rooms, and the dad was instructed to leave her dinner outside of her door for her. The claustrophobia of being locked down with your own family, and the emotional distance that can nevertheless exist, was really moving.
If you can handle the idea of watching a film not about an invented pandemic, but about our actual pandemic, “Family Squares” is deftly moving and openly hilarious. What could have been a generic, dysfunctional family misadventure comes to life in the hands of a really funny and intelligent cast of indie stalwarts (yes, I’m talking about Judy Greer), while the pandemic setting manages to be resonant and specific rather than a cheap ploy to manufacture relevance. I was surprised at how much I liked this funny movie, whose charm cannot be summed up in a single sentence; it must be experienced. It will really grow on you.
“Family Squares” is now playing at the Crescent Theater.
New The Week:
“The Batman”: Robert Pattinson dons the Batsuit for this latest Batman flick, which seems to boast all the classic villains since it co-stars Zoë Kravitz as Catwoman, Colin Farrell as the Penguin, John Turturro as Carmine Falcone and Paul Dano as the Riddler. All listed multiplex theaters, Nexus Cinema Dining.
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