Family Squares

Conceived and recorded primarily through a video chat platform, Stephanie Laing’s Family Squares attempts to connect with movie goers who have lost loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic and have been restricted from a personal goodbye.

In the movie, the Worth family send their peace and love to their ailing Grandma Mabel (June Squibb) before she passes away on her webcam with the assistance of her nurse (Long Weekend’s Zoe Chao).  The family continues to convene over video chat to discuss funeral arrangements with Mabel’s attorney (Sam Richardson) and watch videos left by Mabel before she died.  The videos contain Mabel’s wisecracking sense of humour with the occasional dropped bombshell that sends the chat into hysterics.  Video confessions aside, these online reunions force the family to confront smothered emotions towards each other as well as other secrets.

Family Squares follows in the same vein as other family ensemble dramedies aspiring to please crowds, such as sappy holiday fodder like The Family Stone and Love the Coopers or the surprisingly charming star-studded This Is Where I Leave You.  Laing’s movie, however, has the added hurdle of trying to engage the audience through a narrow viewfinder.  While the aesthetics are accurate to how most families have only communicated with each other, the approach is bland to look at.  The filmmaker tries to spruce up the pace by cutting to other unflattering camera angles, but the abrupt edits (that resemble washed-out security camera perspectives) break our concentration too much.  For how to properly break up this type of monotony, Laing should’ve watch Searching and taken notes.  Or, the “Connection Lost” episode of Modern Family which was ahead of its time.

Despite the movie having a great cast (Mass Ann Dowd, Henry Winkler of Happy Days fame, Playing For Keeps’ Judy Greer, Margo Martindale, Casey Wilson of The Shrink Next Door, Eighth Grade’s Elsie Fisher, and Timothy Simons of Yes, God, Yes), every member of the Worth family is annoying.  From their unrelenting sarcastic quips to their loud outbursts to their over-the-top reactions to Mabel’s confessions.  The actors are doing their best with the unconventional shooting style of the production (we see evidence of this during the end credits), but the flat filmmaking doesn’t give them (literal) room to stretch their performances, and the material is surface-level sentimentality.  Squibb is especially disappointing considering this is the same droll act she has been doing for nearly a decade.  It earned her a much-deserved Oscar nomination for 2013’s Nebraska, but it’s growing stale in 2022.

Family Squares is the second pandemic-set ensemble film I’ve seen in a month, and I’m simply tapped out.  While Family Squares has been made with more sincerity and is much better than Judd Apatow’s The Bubble, Stephanie Laing’s mawkish dramedy is still an unpleasant watch.


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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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