Why Mayim Bialik’s ‘As They Made Us’ is one of 2022’s best films


Dan Buffa, Special For The Jewish Light

The fascinating thing about life is that you hopefully get to know your parents twice: first as a kid and then as an adult. The passage of time eventually allows adults to merge the two people into one complete entity, but the process can be tricky if illness suddenly gets in the way. Something that Mayim Bialik’s semi-autobiographical new film, “As They Made Us,” eloquently informs over its never-too-slow or too fast 96-minute runtime.

At the center of the tale is superhuman daughter Abigail (Jewish actress Dianna Agron), who is attempting to juggle divorced single motherhood with her crumbling, dysfunctional family. Her dad Eugene (Dustin Hoffman) has a degenerative muscle disease that is eating away at his mind and body. All the while, Barbara (a scene-stealing Candice Bergen) is too busy denying the dire prognosis for her husband. She’s the kind of naïve soul who responds to a doctor saying her husband has six months to live by proclaiming he doesn’t get enough food, or that a timely enema would make him all better.

Sometimes, your love for someone is so strong that you have zero room for logic. The greatest trick that love plays on you is making you think it doesn’t give birth to a lifelong dependency. Bialik never lets that pulse stray far from the heart of her tale, which feels and thrives on how personal it feels for her.

Hoffman and Bergen personify that poignant unity so well on screen, standing out in a very strong cast. The two have put out dozens of worthy and vital performances, but Barbara and Eugene are people that seemed real to me for a couple of hours. Bialik made it feel so lived-in and unforced that the cinema touch all but disappeared when Agron is trying to find reason amongst the chaos of her childhood home. As the family battles the absence of estranged son Nathan (Jewish actor, Simon Helberg) in the present, “As They Made Us” helps us travel back to Abby’s memorable yet tumultuous childhood.


It’s there where the audience meets the other Eugene, the younger and more brash and less gentle patriarch, a result of career stress and life restrictions–such as his insistence on smoking marijuana back when it was still a fresh escape. Unlike the weak and unable to properly function older Eugene, this guy is abusive and stubborn yet loving and humorous. Hoffman nails both time periods, showing that his impressive range as an actor hasn’t diminished over the years like his character’s body. He’s soulful when it’s not necessary and painfully blunt when the viewer least expects it. I connected with his howling at the moon writer on a few levels.

But it’s Bergen’s Barbara who doesn’t seem to change over time. Her matriarch forms such an ugly adhesion to Eugene’s well-being and every thought that it breeds chaos that doesn’t stop growing until old age hits your expiration date sooner than expected. Bergen is unwavering in her portrayal of hardcore love, one that separates her children from her husband in care rankings. So, when his state falters, she doesn’t know how to be a doting mother; she aims for direct offensive comments instead.

Whether it’s attacking her son’s weight or her daughter’s current romantic status, Barbara is a hammer that slices. Few actresses can pull such a brutal assault as Bergen. Give her some awards attention in November. We’re still in a grain of salt territory there but for such a well-known talent, she managed to impress even more. Barbara isn’t an awful person; she’s just glued to a certain way of perceiving people and reviewing their choices. Bergen makes that heartbreaking and visceral at the same time.

Julian Gant really makes a dent in a small role as Eugene’s thoughtful nurse, Darrin. In most films like this, Darrin’s scenes wouldn’t register or even be something to recall. But in more scenes than one, Gant does something that makes a scene more affecting. As in a sad moment where Abby is just worn out from grief and stress, and Darrin just gives her a hug. Something about how it’s performed and not too much or too little should be noted.

Agron is very good as the hurried and overly caring Abby, someone who puts everyone else in front of her own needs. When she’s not caring for her father’s health or fixing another storm created by her mother, she is desperately attempting to reconnect with Nathan or start something new with Jay (a charismatic Justin Chu Cary). By day, she writes for The Modern Jew, a magazine focusing on timely Jewish themes. At night, she makes sure her kids do their Jewish prayers. It’s a well-balanced role and Agron, who had a small part in last year’s “Shiva Baby,” really arrives with her portrayal of courage under constant fire.

But the real standout here is Bialik’s script. Along with being witty and charming in tragically frightening waters, she manages to pull a few laughs from dire straits. It comes off as wholly personal in the best way; a filmmaker and storyteller opening up her life to audiences in nimble cinematic fashion, taking down the privacy fence a little. Directing, producing, and writing a film doesn’t seem like child’s play so when it happens, I assume the reason had to be sincere in its cohesiveness. The screenplay scales the sea of drama and comedy, coming back to the table with an equally funny and emotional experience. As the poster promises-and it’s true-if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.

Drowning out raw tragedy with hysterically well-written comedy is tough to pull off. It’s something Mayim Bialik does with ease and care here with “As They Made Us,” a movie about finding out where your parents end and you begin.