Mayim Bialik makes her writing and directorial debut with the hard-hitting dysfunctional family drama As They Made Us. Damn, does it hit hard!
Dianna Agron plays Abigail, a divorced mother of two who has a highly co-dependent relationship with her parents, Eugene (Dustin Hoffman) and Barbara (Candice Bergen). With Eugene’s health deteriorating rapidly, Abigail is on call 24/7 for all of Barbara’s complaints, criticisms, and minor requests. Although Abigail hopes to find just a moment of relief by hiring a caretaker, Barbara finds some arbitrary reason to fire them. With just weeks to live, Eugene asks to see his son, Nathan (Simon Helberg). The problem is that he’s been estranged from the family for over twenty years.
As Abigail attempts to track down Nathan, she is flooded with childhood memories. Eugene was physically abusive, and worse, Barbara was mentally and emotionally abusive with her personal attacks and passive-aggressive defense mechanisms. When she finally catches up with him, old wounds are ripped off and exposed. Will the loss of the family patriarch be enough to bring the family together again?
“With Eugene’s health deteriorating rapidly, Abigail is on call 24/7 for all of Barbara’s complaints [and] criticisms…”
It goes without saying, As They Made Us shines because of its cast. The cast shines because of Mayim Bialik’s story. Highly critical and disapproving parent storylines are not new. They might even be overdone. However, Hoffman and Bergen bring depth and dimension to Eugene and Barbara. This allows us to instantly connect with the two as parents without them ever feeling like an overdone stereotype. Bergen is exceptionally brilliant as Abigail’s antagonist. She’s not mean for mean sake, but you can see it’s all done out of insecurity and defensiveness. Eugene’s “last” birthday is both devasting and telling. Agron carries the film as she’s in almost every scene. Abigail oozes sympathy (and pity) as she is pulled in every direction and ultimately pushed to her emotional limits as she’s bottled every frustration since adolescence.
Mayim Bialik couldn’t have had a better debut for a feature film than As They Made Us. If you’ve heard her podcasts, you know she has great insight into family life and the internal psyche. The first-time filmmaker not only put that insight into the script but got the perfect performances from her cast. The director helps Argon maintain an authentic portrayal of Abigail, never resorting to an overdramatic “Oscar” clip moment. Bialik proves that if you want to tell a heavy story, cast comedians as your leads. They’ll hit it out of the park more often than not.
"…Bialik proves that if you want to tell a heavy story, cast comedians as your leads."