Armageddon and his friend Time (CREDIT: Anne Joyce/Focus Features)

Starring: Banks Repeta, Jeremy Strong, Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins, Jaylin Webb, Ryan Sell, Tovah Feldshuh, Andrew Polk

Director: James Gray

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Language, Corporal Punishment, and Pre-Teen Delinquency

Release Date: October 28, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Middle school is an awkward, frequently terrifying time for a lot of people. That’s especially true for budding artist Paul Graff (Banks Repeta) during his time in sixth grade in 1980 Queens at P.S. 173. He’s got the most hard-ass teacher in the world (Andrew Polk), although you get the sense that that was par for the course for the time period. His parents (Jeremy Strong and Anne Hathaway) want the best for him, but they don’t understand him and all their interactions are filled with constant, occasionally violent frustration. His older brother (Ryan Sell) isn’t too bad, though he is a run-of-the-mill pain in the butt.

Paul escapes all that angst occasionally with his best friend Johnny (Jaylin Webb). But that also leads into an even more troubled world since Johnny is the class troublemaker with a troubled home life, and Paul can’t even begin to fathom the racism Johnny experiences as a young black man, even though his family does clue him in on what his Jewish ancestors have had to endure. It doesn’t get much better for Paul when he transfers to a private school where one of the main benefactors is none other than Fred Trump (John Diehl). At least he has his wise and gentle grandfather Aaron (Anthony Hopkins) to turn to in times of (never-ending) crisis.

What Made an Impression?: I had a sneaking suspicion that Armageddon Time wasn’t going to have a happy ending. It is named “ARMAGEDDON Time,” after all. There may not be a nuclear war to wipe everybody out, even though Paul’s family is devastated by the election of Ronald Reagan. But after everything that Paul goes through over the course of this movie, he can be forgiven for thinking it’s just as bad. Not much is offered in the way of catharsis, though there is just a hint of hope. I found it all incredibly compelling, though I wasn’t exactly sure why that was while watching. I certainly enjoy a good coming-of-age yarn, but this one is a lot more unpleasant than most. I suspect it works as well as it does because it’s based on writer-director James Gray’s own childhood, and it feels like an honest reckoning. Everyone has a story worth telling, and when you’re as vibrant a storyteller as Gray is, I’m happy to see that story on the big screen.

Armageddon Time is Recommended If You Like: Dickensian bildungsromans

Grade: 4 out of 5 Rapper’s Delights