Stories about loss and preparing for one’s death are often bleak, somber affairs that do little for the viewer beyond making them run for the Kleenex. I love a good tearjerker as much as the next person; however, an undeniable amount of skill is required to seamlessly blend the genres of drama and comedy. As They Made Us accomplishes just that. It presents a portrait of a fractured family, and how an already imperfect unit deals with the harsh reality of imminent death.
Abigail (Dianna Agron, Glee, I Am Number Four) is fresh off a divorce that she has neglected telling her mom, Barbara (Candice Bergen, Miss Congeniality, Sweet Home Alabama), about for quite some time. When Abigail receives a call that her father, Eugene (Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate, Meet the Fockers), has “fallen again,” Abigail is a little worried. She also doesn’t think much of it, mainly because Barbara is prone to maximum worry and exaggeration. It is clear things are worse than they initially appeared when a meeting with the doctor prompts a discussion about hospice care. They don’t see Eugene living longer than six months, which comes as a big shock to Abigail, whilst Barbara is in major denial about Eugene’s imminent death.
Repairing the rot that has formed at the center of this dysfunctional family becomes Abigail’s primary mission before Eugene succumbs to his illness. Abigail’s estranged brother, Nathan (Simon Helberg), is deeply immersed in his lectures on Japanese gardens, and has not seen mom or dad for twenty years. Eugene’s illness seems to present the perfect opportunity for reconciliation. Nathan has a very specific caveat for coming to visit Eugene: Barbara cannot be present. This is easier said than done, considering Barbara throws herself into the planning stages for Eugene’s final birthday celebration. As Eugene’s final days grow closer by the minute, Abigail’s crush on Jay (Justin Chu Cary) the landscaper grows stronger by the second, and presents her a second chance at love.
My main motivation for watching was the presence of Glee’s Dianna Agron, whose tenure as Quinn Fabray seems to have prepared her for the intense emotionality of Abigail. The fact that one of her children in the film was named Finn made my heart skip a beat, recalling the fallen character from FOX’s memorable musical drama from Ryan Murphy. The final goodbyes here felt as if my heart was torn out and stomped upon several times over. This section in particular asks a lot of the cast, but none moreso than Simon Helberg’s Nathan.
I can see an older crowd especially connecting with this material. Co-writer and director Mayim Bialik simply must have a dysfunctional family of her own, because that’s the only way I am convinced she speaks so directly from the heart. As They Made Us is filled with hilariously relatable dialogue, deeply upsetting imagery involving late-stage physical deterioration, and excellent acting from the full ensemble cast.
As They Made Us reconnects to viewers when it comes to theaters on Friday, April 8th.