FAMILY SQUARES – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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There have been several attempts at making movies while using Zoom technology during the pandemic, such as the horror film Host and the two-hander dramedy Language Lessons. But for writer-director Stephanie Laing, her wry comedy Family Squares, is a highly personal mission since it was inspired by the loss of her mother back in 2019. It’s also a love letter to her family that is stacked with an outstanding ensemble cast that those who use Zoom to communicate with one another they are seen occupying virtual cubicles. The title is a salute to the long-running TV game show Hollywood Squares, where celebs sat in separated by a tic-tac-toe grid. Laing mostly shot remotely during quarantine and directed her stars via video conference.

Front and center is June Squibb, however, who was Oscar-nominated for her sassy supporting role in 2013’s Nebraska. Her character’s burial details are in the hands of her expansive clan as they beloved 90-ish matriarch Mabel Worth is about to go meet her maker. But she also records four short videos that she filmed previously with the help of her lawyer/funeral director (Sam Richardson), as she details her wishes for her burial and also alludes to a long-held family secret that eventually comes out as a shock. Those chunky glimpses of Mabel allow Squibb to basically steal the show with her wicked sense of humor, despite being deceased.

Among the other cast mates who are eligible for AARP is Ann Dowd, who plays Mabel’s late- life companion during her waning year. Margo Martindale is her daughter who raised five children, including three grown sons. widower Bret (Billy Magnusson), who also is raising his teen daughter, Casey (Elsie Fisher), Chad (Timothy Simon), who claims he is in Russia, and Kevin, who is a self-published book writer, who is quarantined in a garage after catching COVID-19. She also has two grown daughters, Dorsey (Judy Greer) and Katy (Casey Wilson). Completing the Brady Bunch squares is Uncle Bobby, who is played by an underused Henry Winkler.

At this point, each member is staying in different parts of the country while many old grievances are shared. Laing also provides a narrator in the form of Rob Reiner. As he says, “George Burns once wrote that happiness is having a large, loving, caring close-knit family … in another city.” That is somewhat true, but in the end everyone makes peace with the fact by Mabel led the way while granting her wishes. Dramatically, Family Squares quaintly moseys along as the cast does their best to reflect our lives these days.

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a contributor for the online awards site Gold Derby and is an Oscar expert for Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.