‘Family Squares’ Takes on the Pandemic, Zoom and Human Nature

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“I just want to say, I am so happy that Mom did not die of Covid,” says Bobby Worth (Henry Winkler) in “Family Squares,” a film told through FaceTime, Zoom and phone calls immediately before and after the death of the Worth family matriarch, Mabel (June Squibb).

That a dying loved one evaded the virus may be little consolation to the grief-stricken, but it’s precisely this plot point that allows Stephanie Laing, the writer and director, to poke gentle fun at our shared pandemic predicament. Her film is a lighthearted and touching look at the feuds, resentments and secrets that can surface when someone dies.

The film underlines the idea that it’s never too late to tell the truth or repair tattered bonds. Mabel, on videos played after her death, urges her descendants to heal their broken relationships.

The star-studded cast is introduced in a hectic grid: The faces include Mabel’s son, Bobby; daughter, Diane (Margo Martindale); late-in-life partner, Judith (Ann Dowd); and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

After less than a minute of virtual overtalk, a grandson, Robert (Billy Magnussen), a whistle blower hiding out in Russia, suggests they raise their hands when they want to speak; the others respond with mocking middle fingers.

The inherent clumsiness of Zoom interactions gives rise to other funny moments, such as a decision by Cassie (Elsie Fisher) to sit with Mabel’s body “until the free session runs out.” When she’s still there a while later, her father asks incredulously, “How has it not expired yet?” (She has upgraded to a premium account, using his credit card.)

Laing’s writing is sharp, drawing vivid characters and exposing family tensions through acerbic dialogue. For example, one granddaughter, Dorsey (Judy Greer), in a dig at her sister, Katie (Casey Wilson), comments, “Your kitchen looks really nice. How much did Grandma spend on that remodel?”

Filmed during quarantine in 2020, “Family Squares” uses the communication tools of the pandemic era to deliver a film with the intimacy of a home movie, while still exploring the chaos and limitations of technology.

Family Squares
Rated R for language. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Amazon, Vudu and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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