Anyone who has ever taken any form of creative writing class surely knows one of the first rules: write what you know.
Filmmakers have been making films loosely based on their own childhoods for sometime now, going as far back as Truffaut’s 1959 masterpiece The 400 Blows. Yet ever since 2018’s Roma (based off of past experiences by it’s director, Alfonso Cuarón), there has seem to be a slight uptick in these types of films: Lee Issac Chung’s Minari (2020), Kenneth Branaugh’s Belfast (2021), and Steven Spielberg’s The Fablemans, which is soon to be released in a few weeks. Now the spotlight is on the childhood of director James Gray, with Armageddon Time.
Set in 1980 in the days leading up to the presidential election, the avatar of Gray’s younger self is Paul Graff (Banks Repeta). Starting out his sixth grade year, he feels like an outcast of sorts within himself. Despite his mother Esther (Anne Hathaway) being in charge of the school’s PTA, the year does not start off well with his (truly atrocious) teacher Mr. Turkeltaub (Andrew Polk) soon singles him out as well as singling out Johnny (Jaylin Webb), a black boy who has already been held back.
Things are better at home, but not by much. As the second born watching his older brother Ted (Ryan Sell) seemingly succeed at a private school, he does not get too much attention from his father Irving (Jeremy Strong), a tough but still loving father. The only family member he truly clicks with is his Grandpa Aaron (the always authentic Anthony Hopkins).
Eventually, Paul does become friends with Johnny, but a situation arises and Paul is forced to go to the same private school as his brother, which happens to be funded by Fred Trump (the former president’s late father).
One could indeed come to the conclusion that Paul is nothing short of a brat. Afterall, the 11 year old is rather rebellious, only to truly be repentant when his dad or grandpa is aware of what he has done. Yet he is at that age of discovering rebellion (and one stage away from discovering girls).
Yet we still care for Paul because, in one way or another, we all have had experiences like him. We have had rough interactions with our parents, experienced loss at a young age, and learned (sometimes the hard way) that actions have consequences.
Parents, the movie is rated R mainly due to language and some deep thematic issues. Even with the language equivalent to what an 11 year old would hear in their school, this film is probably a little too much for a kid.
Even though the film takes many turns that could be called dour, it is hard to ignore the strong performances. While it is customary to get performances from the adult actors, the performances of Banks Repeta and Jaylin Webb are what will stay with you days after you have seen the credits role.