By Megan Bianco
Presently, James Gray’s new family drama, Armageddon Time, is out two weeks before Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans. Both are about a Jewish child growing up in mid-20th century America, and they are also loosely based on the directors’ own childhoods.
It figures Gray’s picture is one of this year’s “twin films.” While Gray’s artistic success is modest compared to the powerhouse of Spielberg’s legacy, I don’t think anyone would confuse either of these films aesthetically, fortunately for Gray and his team.
In 1980 Queens, New York, 12-year-old Paul Graff (Banks Repeta) is forced to leave his public school for his older brother Ted’s (Ryan Sell) private school after Paul is caught smoking a joint in the bathroom with Johnny (Jaylin Webb), one of the few Black students on campus.
Paul’s parents, Esther (Anne Hathaway) and Irving (Jeremy Strong), think Paul has all the opportunities and potential for a proper education that can lead to a business career, while Paul’s grandfather, Aaron (Anthony Hopkins), thinks he should follow his passion for art.
The first misstep for Armageddon Time is the title sounding way too much like a sci-fi adventure. The namesake makes more sense when we view the film and see early on Paul’s family watching a TV interview with then-President Ronald Reagan, who uses the word “Armageddon” during a comment. But on its own, the title is completely misleading to someone going into the feature blind.
But the real issue here is that by releasing Armageddon Time so near to The Fabelmans, it’s a little too obvious how, in the shadows, Gray’s career is compared to his peers and idols. I don’t think his movies are bad on any level, yet nothing about his style or stories stands out cinematically or singularly.
I doubt The Fabelmans will have some of the darker aspects of Armageddon Time, and I’m guessing the former will have a longer-lasting impact on me, since Spielberg is already one of my favorite filmmakers and has a foolproof track record.
I would still recommend Armageddon Time for the cast, and if you’re in the mood for a period drama, as there are ultimately talented people involved who usually deliver. But as a whole, I don’t think Armageddon Time will leave a big impression on me, unfortunately.