“As They Made Us” is a mild comedy drama which mainly revolves around its heroine’s emotional struggle with her complex family issues. While it does not bring up anything particularly new from its familiar genre territories, the movie handles its story and characters with enough care and sensitivity at least, and it is also supported well by its engaging cast members, who did try their best in overcoming their clichéd roles.
At first, we get to know how things have been rather frustrating for Abigail (Dianna Agron), a divorced mother who has tried to raise her two young sons alone. While she is taking a sabbatical period after having her professional career on hold, her daily life is constantly busy as taking care of lots of stuffs for her two kids, and she often has to depend on her ex-husband even though they are not a couple anymore. In addition, she also gets frequent calls from her mother Barbara (Candice Bergen) due to the deteriorating health of her father Eugene (Dustin Hoffman), and she cannot help but get annoyed whenever her mother makes a fuss over one matter after another.
However, it is quite apparent that her father does not have much time to live at present. Although her past memories of her father are not that good as reflected by brief flashback scenes, Abigail still loves her father nonetheless, she tries to do whatever is the best for her father as a good daughter, but that is not so easy as she finds herself often clashing with her mother over that matter. While she surely cares a lot about her husband, Barbara is sometimes more concerned about her feelings than her husband’s welfare, and that certainly exasperates her daughter a lot.
Anyway, Eugene is eventually taken to a hospice where he can peacefully spend the last several months of his life, but Abigail does not feel that relieved as there is still a certain family issue to be resolved. Many years ago, her older brother Nathan (Simon Helberg) left the family after having a big fight with Eugene and Barbara, and he has not contacted with them at all since that, but Abigail thinks he needs to know that his father will die sooner or later.
She eventually manages to talk with Nathan on the phone, and she later goes to a college where he has been teaching gardening as a lecturer with a doctoral degree, but Nathan is still reluctant about meeting his parents again. During their brief conversation scene, the camera only looks at Nathan and Abigail from the distance, but his conflicted feelings about his parents are palpable to us, and we come to gather that he feels still hurt about what he had to endure due to his parents.
That makes Abigail more muse on her equally complicated relationship with her parents. Although she got along fairly well with her parents compared to her older brother, she was also hurt a lot by her parents’ rather toxic relationship just like her older brother, and she also has felt some resentment for not appreciated much by her parents no matter how much she try to help and take care of them.
Meanwhile, there comes a little possibility of romance to her via a handsome landscaper working outside her house. While she prefers to be a mere employer to him, Abigail gradually becomes attracted to this dude, and it turns out that he is also quite interested in getting closer to her. As getting to know each other more, they become more attached to each other, and she even invites him and his parents to her father’s birthday party, though it turns out to be far less pleasant than she wishes.
Leisurely rolling from one episodic moment to another, the screenplay by director/writer/co-producer Mayim Bialik, who has been mainly known for her Emmy-nominated turn in TV comedy series “The Big Bang Theory”, brings some depth and humanity to its main characters. As urged by Abigail, Nathan eventually comes to reunite with his father, but he adamantly sticks to his condition for that nonetheless, and that leaves bittersweet feelings to both Abigail and Barbara. In case of Barbara and Eugene, they are indeed flawed in many aspects, but they still do love each other despite all those hard and difficult times between them, and there is a little poignant moment when Eugene confides his enduring love toward his wife while not aware that much of her presence.
When the story eventually arrives at the inevitable finale filled with sorrow and grief, the movie still sticks to its low-key mood as usual, and its main cast members convey to us well the emotional undercurrents around their characters. While Dianna Aagron, who is mainly known for her supporting turn in TV comedy series “Glee”, dutifully holds the center, Simon Helberg, Candice Bergen, and Dustin Hoffman imbue their respective supporting characters with a considerable amount of life and personality, and Bergen and Hoffman are effortless as a husband and a wife who sort of complement each other in one way or another.
Overall, “As They Made Us” is a fairly competent feature film debut by Bialik, and I appreciate several good performances in the film, but I must point out that there are many other movies which handle those complex family issues with more edginess and thoughtfulness. For now, Tamara Jenkins’ “The Savages” (2007) comes to my mind, and I sincerely recommend you to watch that overlooked gem instead, but I will not stop you from watching “As They Made Us” if you just want something mild.