February 21, 2022

“Family Squares” Confronts the Reality of Virtual Living (Review)

At this point, it’s a cliché to say that COVID-19 has impacted our lives in ways we never thought possible two years ago. Now, it’s the new normal, and Family Squares proves it.

Written and directed by Stephanie Laing (director of HBO Max’s Made for Love), Family Squares is set almost entirely over various Zoom and FaceTime calls, chronicling a family’s process of grief and acceptance after their nearest and dearest, Grandma Mabel (June Squibb) passes away live on a video call, leaving behind a series of clues that could reveal one of the family members is not who they claim to be.

The main selling point here is the cast — the Zoom-oriented premise means that barely any of the actors have to film together, and seemingly anyone is fair game. Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade), Judy Greer (13 Going on 30), Billy Magnussen (Into the Woods), Scott MacArthur (The Mick), Ann Dowd (Mass) and Henry Winkler (Happy Days) are among the family members, with Sam Richardson (currently starring in Apple TV+’s The Afterparty) appearing as Grandma Mabel’s attorney. It’s one of the best non-murder mystery casts I’ve seen in a while, and it may not have been possible had this been filmed anywhere but virtually.

Everyone brings something different to the table, but no one is breaking new ground or playing against type. The banter between MacArthur and Magnussen is a lot of fun to watch, and Fisher and Greer deliver some nuanced and genuinely heartbreaking performances. It’s awkward at points, but that’s part of the appeal — life is weird and confusing, and sometimes you have to push through and dwell on what really matters. That ends up being different for each character, and being a part of their lives for 90 minutes is heartwarming, infuriating, exhausting, hilarious and sweet, sometimes all at the same time — such is life.

There may not be much substance beyond the basic premise, but Family Squares is utterly charming to its core, and so completely earnest in its portrayal of family drama and the early pandemic struggles of major life events happening virtually that it’s a winner no matter how you spin it.

Family Squares is now playing in select theaters and is available to rent or buy on demand.

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