For about the first half, “As They Made Us” feels like two different movies awkwardly glued together. In one, Abigail of Agron is a recently divorced mother of two rambunctious boys struggling to find love again. In the other, Abigail deals with the growing demands of her dysfunctional family as the patriarch sinks deeper into a debilitating illness. Seemingly, the latter informs the former, as flashbacks reveal his father’s verbal and physical abuse as well as his parents’ volatile bickering. But the back-and-forth structure gives the film a rough initial pace; “As They Made Us” finds a more secure footing when it focuses on today’s challenges.
Hoffman’s Eugene is a mercurial performer who was a terror in his youth, as we see in quick and startling flashbacks. (Working with cinematographer David Feeney-Mosier, Bialik favors an orange-brown color palette for these retro sequences, which eventually become predictable and boring.) Now Eugene is weak and confused as the end approaches. of his life. His long-suffering wife, Barbara of Bergen, is so narcissistic that she is unable to care for him and instead uses her addiction as an opportunity to put him down. At the same time, Barbara fends off her various doctors and caregivers, forcing Abigail to step in and fix the issues. Older brother Nathan (Helberg) has been estranged from the family for the past 20 years due to all of these issues and more, but now Abigail is begging him to come back, make amends, and say his final goodbyes.
Everyone is basically horrible, and it’s up to Abigail to sort out the nonsense and the noise. But it’s not a wacky, failed family comedy. “As They Made Us” is most effective in its sweet, intimate, everyday moments, and Bialik thankfully refrains from melodrama as the film reaches its tearful conclusion. Anyone who has lost a loved one after a long illness will understand the agonizing wait described here with taste and simplicity, as well as the uncomfortable moments that occur when family members try to put aside their differences at these times of loss and the sorrow.