REVIEW — “The Fabelmans”
Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical drama, The Fabelmans is a personal and poignant collection of tragi-comic scenes that shaped the beloved American artist.
Featuring a classically nostalgic score by John Williams, the film is full of subtle Easter eggs and musical cues that tease Spielberg’s childhood inspiration for some of his most popular films, like Jaws, E.T., and Poltergeist.
The Fabelmans also features remarkable performances from its cast. Notably, Gabriel LaBelle as teenage Sam Fabelman. LaBelle is a natural lead whose behind-the-camera character draws the lens’ attention. He carries the film with earnest angst and emotion as a teenager torn between his responsibility to his family and his calling as an artist.
Michelle Williams runs the gamut of emotions as the carefree, eccentric, and sadly unravelling Mitzi, while Paul Dano gives a more understated performance. As hardworking father/loyal, but emotionally-distant, husband Burt, Dano quietly swallows the heartbreaking pain of a man cuckolded by his wife and friend.
Julia Butters is also a standout as Sammy’s level-headed sister Reggie, and Judd Hirsch delivers a brief, but memorably impactful role as Sammy’s (Great) Uncle Boris.
The film follow young Sammy Fabelman, who, in 1952 New Jersey, is convinced by his parents to see his first film on the big screen, DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth. The film’s graphic train wreck scene sears into his mind and ignites his imagination. He is compelled to recreate the scene using his toy train set. Encouraged by his artistic, pianist mother Mitzi (Williams) and analyzed by his scientific, engineer father Burt (Dano), Sammy turns to filmmaking as a way to control and make sense of the visions in his mind.
Using his sisters as his subjects, little Sammy creates a series of home movies, a hobby that blossoms into short film direction after the family relocates to Phoenix, AZ and Sammy grows into Sam (LaBelle), an aspiring and clever young filmmaker.
Along for the ride is Burt’s coworker and best friend, Uncle Benny (Seth Rogan), a jovial and lighthearted presence who translates Burt’s tech-speak and keeps Mitzi laughing. Rogan is simultaneously endearing and unwelcome as the “uncle” who believes in Sam’s gift as a filmmaker, but who is also inadvertently tearing The Fabelmans apart.
Eager for a fresh start, the family once again relocates, this time to Northern California for Burt’s new job at IBM. This is where the film takes a darker turn, due to Sammy’s experiences with anti-Semitic high school bullies (Oakes Fegley and Sam Rechner) and Burt and Mitzi’s deteriorating marriage. However, it is also where Sam gains courage among his peers, confidence as a filmmaker, and a very enthusiastic, scene-stealing girlfriend (Chloe East).
With chaos all around him, Sam dives into filmmaking. By viewing his world through the lens of a camera, he can film the train wrecks in his life, control their narrative, and edit out the bad parts. However, he slowly learns that movies are dreams, and real life isn’t like it is on the big screen.
While his personal origin story may be nothing more than a fable, it’s fascinating to witness the influences behind Spielberg’s cinematic eye and how he learned to keep it on the horizon. 3.5/5
Rated PG-13 with a running time of 2 hours, 31 minutes, The Fabelmans opens in theaters on Wednesday, November 23, 2022.