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As They Made Us features a top shelf cast and a touching story

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There’s nothing more important than family. Written and directed by Mayim Bialik, you can see AS THEY MADE US, starring Dianna Agron, Simon Helberg, Candice Bergen, and Dustin Hoffman. It’s available everywhere you buy and rent movies. (Photo: Supplied)

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As They Made Us, a new film that is written, directed and produced by Mayim Bialik, debuted on April 7 prior to being released in theaters and on video on demand. According to the New York Times, it is “an engagingly compassionate directorial debut.” It tells a complex story about members of a dysfunctional Jewish family who are struggling to survive as well as support one another during the period when the father is dying of a serious degenerative disease.

It is a remarkable film in that it manages to accurately portray deep feelings such as intense emotional pain, loneliness and fear while also sharing gentle, intimate moments that show the depth of love and caring that has always been present underneath the surface. Aside from a strong dose of reality, there are humorous moments that help the family handle their anticipatory grief. At times the story feels unrelenting in the intensity of conflicts that are constantly popping up in almost every scene.

Barbara, the mother, has a borderline personality disorder. Her husband Eugene, on the other hand, has a long standing history of being physically and emotionally abusive which has, in turn, taken its toll over the years on Barbara and their two adult children, Nate and Abigail. Abigail, as superbly portrayed by Dianna Agron, is a woman who is trying to hold everything and everyone together, without effectively handling her own trauma, wants and needs. (Backlot Magazine by Dayna Eileen, April 8, 2022.) A divorced mother of two children, she is a loving and nurturing parent.  

According to William Bibbiani in his article in the Wrap on April 8, 2022, “The people in Abigail’s life don’t walk all over her; they practically stampede. She has endured a lifetime of emotional and sometimes physical abuse and her resolute determination to be a dependable family member for parents who have practically destroyed her life could be seen as a cruel tragedy.”

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Although her character appears to have tolerated the constant barrage of negativity from her parents and in particular her mother, she is holding back so much resentment and sadness that it threatens to destroy her if she would ever allow it. Dianna clearly carries herself with immense dignity and emotional complexity in her strong portrayal of Abigail. Her personal connection to Judaism appears in the film through music, prayer and mourning rituals. When she sings a traditional Yiddish song to her father, it reinforces the connection between them and creates a joyful moment that brings back poignant memories.

Jewish practices and beliefs, music and rituals provide an important backdrop to the film and we can only imagine the richness of their family life during better times.

Abigail’s brother, Nathan, abandoned the family 20 years ago as he could no longer tolerate the stress of living with his parents.  He has never looked back, and when Abigail reaches out to let him know that Eugene is in hospice, he’s got a very quick decision to make about how much he actually wants to see his father one last time. Simon Helberg convincingly portrays him as a man whose life seems dedicated to peacefulness and platitudes, no doubt as a way to protect himself from the volatility he experienced in his youth.

There is a profound sense of relief, several months after the funeral, when Abigail and Nate begin to re-establish the closeness that they had been unable to share during the difficult times when they were living in an unsettling home environment. Dustin Hoffman and Candice Bergen, two highly regarded artists in the film industry, bring immense depth and dimension to Eugene and Barbara’s characters.

 According to one review (Film Threat, 2022), “Dustin is so effective at conveying on-screen fragility and we’re so used to seeing this actor confidently dominate the screen that watching him recede evokes instant sympathy and even active distress. The review adds that Candice “acrobatically juggles the tricky emotional state of a self-centered person losing the only human being to whom she emotionally connects and handling it in the most self-centered way she can.” 

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This is Mayim Bialik’s first foray into film making and she truly shines.

A remarkably talented woman, she originally had a successful career as a child star in movies and sitcoms prior to eventually earning a Ph.D. in neuroscience, from U.C.L.A. She went on to play neuroscientist Amy Farrah Fowler on “The Big Bang Theory” and currently stars in the Fox sitcom “Call Me Kat.” Most recently, she has been a host on Jeopardy following Alex Trebek’s death, a task she very much enjoys.

Bialik does not see this film as being specifically autobiographical. “Many things about the story are from my childhood and many things are completely fabricated and literally never happened” she explained, adding that she “mostly wanted to explore this sibling relationship and what happens when siblings react differently to a home with mental illness and addiction.”

“My father passed away seven years ago… and there’s a very specific year of mourning in traditional Judaism that goes for a year after someone–a parent, sibling, child or spouse passes – and so after that year, words started coming to me. Memories, images, many accompanied by music, and I started writing them down. I wrote out my feelings and kind of constructed this story…and then sat on it for about a year.”.

“So, I think it really is a very personal journey. I do think that this family structure is very touching, and so, the complexity of that, is what I’d like people to leave with.”

Judy Weinryb is a published author who facilitates a Creative Writing class on zoom at the Bernard Betel Centre for Creative Living. She has been a freelance writer for the Canadian Jewish News, the Jewish Tribune and the Markham Review. A social worker for many years, she has an interest in Jewish Community from both a professional and personal perspective.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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