The Fabelmans Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
This is Spielberg back at his best! A warm, funny, engaging tale with a lot of heart that not only looks magical but is a window into the director's soul.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Keeley Karsten, Julia Butters, Chloe East, Sam Rechner & Judd Hirsch.
Run Time: 151 min.
US Release: 24 November 2022
UK Release: 27 January 2023
German Release: 09 March 2023
The last Spielberg flick that swept me off my feet was Lincoln, with Bridge of Spies being a good follow-up in his filmography. That said, his four directed features after that were simply mediocre; fun to watch yet not really memorable. So, while interested, it did not make it into my most anticipated list, as I wasn’t sure if we would obtain a remarkable story. Well, I am happy to say that this is not simply an emotional rollercoaster but one that lets us understand the director a little better. Is it his best? No way, nevertheless it is worth a watch! So, sit back as I go on about what I liked, as well as what I thought did not work.
Loosely based on Steven Spielberg’s childhood life, from age seven to eighteen, the young Sammy Fabelman discovers how the power of movies help us see the truth about each other and ourselves. It is a passion that borders on addiction!
The idea to create a picture that is based on his personal life had been in Spielberg’s mind as far back as 1999. Back then, the project was called “I’ll Be Home”, however, the director was afraid to go through with it, as he was worried his parents might be taking it more as an insult than a tribute. This fear stems due to the reason that Spielberg never had an easy family dynamic. He finally decided to work on The Fabelmans, due to the reason that his parents ‘nagged’ him to make a movie about their lives, before their deaths. Sadly, his mother passed away in 2017 and his father in 2020.
The screenplay was written during the pandemic lockdown, with the director’s main goal to display the lessons he learned through his parents to a wider audience; mainly being, when do children start seeing their mothers and fathers as human beings. The message is wrapped up using Spielberg’s growing fascination, plus compulsion for motion pictures as a young person. It is a love letter to the craft of filmmaking, the power of dreams coming true on screen, as well as the emotions it can awaken in us.
Nonetheless, it is not flawless! The narrative does have pacing issues, specifically at the very beginning, as it is unclear where the plot is heading towards. For an audience, it is also hard to connect with the characters during the first half, given the unusual family dynamic, though as the story advances reasons are given as to why characters behave the way they do. Having said that, I am sure that those issues will improve upon multiple viewings.
The dialogue feels very personal, which is mostly because the director is opening up intimate memories to a public audience. The discussions Samy has with his parents are very relatable, representing an adolescent who comes into conflict with his family, as his virtues collide with those of his father and mother.
Gabriel LaBelle is cast as Sammy Fabelman, though I was wondering how much screen time he is given because the first act features solely Mateo Zoryan Francis-DeFord in the role of a younger version of Samy. Both actors gave stellar renditions of a young man, fascinated with the art of moving imagery. Specifically LaBelle, who played a teenage Sammy, sold his affinity to the technicalities of film, plus his obsession with the craft.
Michelle Williams knocked it out of the park, giving the performance of a lifetime as Sammy’s mother Mitzi, deserving that Oscar nomination! The narrative focuses a lot on Mitzi, who is the creative counterpart to her technical affine husband Burt, and the one who supports Sammy in his love for cinema. It is also her character that brings in a lot of emotions, as she is a very expressive person.
Paul Dano proved early last year, how versatile of an actor he can be, with his creepy rendition of The Riddler, in The Batman. Here he plays a loving family man, yet is conflicted about the path Sammy is taking. Working as a computer engineer, he is more of a logical person, unable to understand how his son will make a life out of a “hobby”, as he likes to call it.
Judd Hirsch, though only on screen for a very short time, gave an incredibly memorable performance as Mitzi’s uncle Boris. Boris shares an artistic vein with Sammy, giving him some harsh advice, as well as spotting some hard truths in his characteristics. Equally, Seth Rogen gave a solid rendition of his character Bennie.
Cinematographically, the director uses many of his signature techniques. Be it the active camera work, or the long dramatic takes. The imagery is relatively warm, almost sundrenched, using a lot of rich colours. A lot of long shots are used, giving the backdrop plenty of room to breathe, and highlighting either the suburban life or nature. It is a beautiful film, made with a lot of love for the big screen!
The scenic shots, in companionship with John Williams’ epic soundtrack, create some of the most unforgettable segments in this semi-biographic pic. In contrast to his usual orchestral style, Williams decided to go with a more piano-focused composition.
Verdict: In the end, The Fabelmans might not be Spielberg's best feature but it is a tale that I can connect with deeply and his greatest directed premise since Bridge of Spies! It is an incredibly intimate story about the fragility of family, just like the escape from reality that cinema can offer. The director captured the fascination to see some fantastical tales, through the lens of someone else. That said, the plot does not always come perfectly together, as it struggles at times to balance the family drama with the love letter to filmmaking. The performances are really good! Gabriel LaBelle comes off at times as being selfish, yet the struggle he portrays between his passion plus duties inside the family can be felt. Michelle Williams is simply fantastic and don’t get me started on the powerfully short performance given by Judd Hirsch. As always, Steven Spielger nails the camera work, even implementing small puns. I enjoyed The Fablemans and will give it an 8.0 out of 10.
Now it is your time to speak up. Did you like Spielberg's semi-biographical feature? Leave a comment in the section below & as always, thank you for reading!