In this review of The Fabelmans, we pay tribute to the transformative potential of the moving image. The Fabelmans, a semi-autobiographical film directed by Steven Spielberg, is a poignant tribute to the films that made him who he is today.
Many people believe that Steven Spielberg is the best living cinema director, or at the very least, one of the best. No one can deny that Steven Spielberg is one of the greats: a living legend from an era that has almost completely been transformed into myth. Spielberg’s career has spanned almost 60 years and he has directed 34 feature films. In addition, he is the director who has had the most commercial success of all time.
The Fabelmans Movie Review: Summary
The Fabelmans, his most recent film, is a drama that is semi-autobiographical, and it is an ode to the power of the moving picture. It is a slightly self-indulgent, two-and-a-half hour love letter to the movies that inspired Spielberg, and it is a loving, yet critical, tribute to the family that got him where he is today.
Directed and co-written by Steven Spielberg.
Drama; 151 mins; 12+
The Fabelmans: Storyline
A version of Steven Spielberg’s life that is loosely based on his childhood in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States and is told in a semi-autobiographical style.
This is an original narrative about a Jewish family, the Fabelmans, who relocate from Phoenix (Arizona) to California and then finally to Los Angeles (California). Burt Fabelman, played by Paul Dano, was an electrical engineer who worked on the development of computers.
Throughout his career, he went wherever his job took him, and he always took his family with him. These comprised his ex-concert pianist wife Mitzi (Michelle Williams), their son Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle, Mateo Zoryan), and their daughters Natalie, Reggie, and Lisa, in addition to their buddy Bennie Loewy (Seth Rogen).
The film follows two primary storylines: the first one is the relationship between Sammy’s parents, Burt and Mitzi, and the second one is where young Sammy develops his love for filmmaking and becomes an aspiring filmmaker.
Young Sammy is influenced initially by the train crash scene on The Greatest Show on Earth, and he is also influenced by a meeting with the director John Ford. Both of these events take place during the course of the film (The Quiet Man; The Grapes of Wrath; Stagecoach).
Additional subplots include the prejudice faced by the family due to the Jewish heritage of the parents, the family’s relocation in order to follow the career path of the father, and the rebuilding of the nation after World War II. It also demonstrated how the art of filmmaking may serve as a means of evading the difficulties of everyday life.
The Fabelmans Movie Review
Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle), a young kid who is brought up in a Jewish household and gets captivated with film and hopes to create a career out of it throughout the course of the show The Fabelmans, is the protagonist. As we follow Sammy, we see how he develops from a fearful child to a talented adolescent.
He goes from being a young boy in New Jersey who is mesmerized by the train crash in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1952 epic The Greatest Show on Earth to being a high school senior who is filming a school away day. This transformation takes place over the course of the film.
The quieter moments of family drama that take place in between these bookends are, however, where the film truly shines. Spielberg’s fictionalized family consists of his father, the loving yet strict Burt (played by the always terrific Paul Dano); his mother, an artist with a tortured soul (played brilliantly by Michelle Williams); “Uncle Bennie” (played by Seth Rogen in a notably restrained performance); and sisters Reggie, Natalie, and Lisa (with Reggie played by Once upon a time in Hollywood breakout star Julia Butters).
A relentless performance by Judd Hirsch as Sammy’s eccentric great uncle Boris, which is aimed to remind Sammy – and the audience – of the significance of art, makes Judd Hirsch the undisputed star of the show.
A stunning discovery is Michelle Williams
Throughout the course of the movie, we see how Sammy’s relationships with his family help to shape who he is as a person. The Fabelmans are, in point of fact, a complicated bunch, much like any other family.
Despite the fact that he loves his son, Burt has a hard time wrapping his head around the idea that Sammy considers filmmaking to be more than just a hobby.
Bert is of the opinion that Sammy will stop making movies once he completes his algebra homework and submits his college applications because life will have moved on to more important things at that point.
In the role of Mitzi, Sammy’s mother, Michelle Williams is a revelation. She is a skilled piano pianist and serves as the creative anchor of the family.
She is also the person Sammy feels the most connected to, but she is also dealing with her own challenges, which contribute to the emotional tension at the film’s core. The complexity and relatability of Mitzi’s despair are conveyed throughout the story.
Her struggles don’t come in big, dramatic moments – with the exception of a hilarious sequence in which she buys a monkey (played by the same primate thespian who portrayed Annie’s Boobs in Community) – but are subtle, seen in the background through Williams’ fantastic, multi-layered performance as a woman who wishes things were one way but can’t help the fact that they’re the other way.
The Fabelmans is successful because it paints a nuanced portrayal of family drama with a tiny “d,” which is what makes the show interesting. Spielberg has always been a master at bringing out the emotional side of individuals in a way that is believable, and he continues to excel in this area.
Take, for instance, any of the moments that E.T. and Elliott shared together or Liam Neeson’s eerie monologue in Schindler’s List. Both of these scenes left a lasting impression on the audience.
The anguish and pathos that are evoked by love, frustration, admiration, and all of the other feelings that help define what it is to be human are Spielberg’s specialty when it comes to coaxing genuine expressions of feeling out of his actors. Spielberg is also a master when it comes to directing large-scale, spectacular set pieces.
In the end, though, The Fabelmans is a film that is about movies, and it is in this sector that Spielberg’s abilities as a director demonstrate why he is still considered to be one of the all-time greats.
Sammy will feel like a kindred soul to almost everyone who has ever harbored the desire to pursue a career in filmmaking. Gabriel LaBelle is an excellent choice to play the semi-fictional version of Steven Spielberg.
His mannerisms, facial expressions, and body language all communicate the surreal delight that Sammy goes around with, and when he talks about movies, he genuinely comes to life, much like the real Steven Spielberg did.
The scene in which Sammy is directing his picture “Ditch Day” to the tune of James Darren’s “Goodbye Cruel World” is widely considered to be one of the most memorable parts of the movie. This moment is captivating not only because Sammy exudes such love and concern for his work, but also because it allows Spielberg to demonstrate his considerable abilities as a director behind the camera.
There is not another director, living or dead, that operates their camera in the same manner as Steven Spielberg does. It should also be noted that Martin Scorsese is deserving of this honor, albeit for entirely different reasons.
Even such ordinary scenes as opening a letter, sitting in a hallway, or making tea are loaded with motion and excitement. It’s hard to vocalise because it’s one of the few things that makes film, well, cinema, but Spielberg’s camera is never motionless, not even when it looks stationary.
A very significant cameo appearance that I won’t reveal here offers some words of wisdom to a younger version of Sammy towards the end of the movie, saying, “When the horizon’s at the bottom, it’s interesting; when the horizon’s at the top, it’s interesting.
But when the horizon’s in the middle, it’s boring as shit!” (When the horizon is in the middle, it’s boring as shit!) Spielberg’s camerawork is never dull, always uncovering the nuances and minute subtleties in whatever his lens is watching.
Art and imagination are the most effective tools
Unfortuately, there are lulls in the picture where it seems to slow down and becomes almost too self-indulgent. Spielberg and co-writer Tony Kushner spend too much time on rehashed family feuds when they should be spending more time actually watching movies with Sammy.
The film isn’t always cohesive, and that holds it back from being an excellent film (although this does not majorly detract from the overall experience).
The Fabelmans doesn’t quite achieve the same sense of wonder that permeated Spielberg’s early films or the awe-inspiring moments that drive Sammy to pursue his dreams, but it serves as a reminder of why movies are important and why art and imagination are the most potent tools in a world that increasingly values neither.
A pre-credits speech from Spielberg expressed gratitude to the audience for viewing the director’s “most personal picture” in the cinema, where it was intended to be viewed.
Unfortunately, there were probably only about 10 people (including me and my Mum) at the movie. Admittedly, this was at a commercial theater on a Friday at 4:30 in the afternoon, but I seriously doubt attendance climbed much later in the day or will improve dramatically in the coming weeks.
The industry is being brought to its knees by the gradual decline of prestige cinema. It is a terrible shame and almost a crime that the majority of people will see the visceral camerawork of Steven Spielberg, the eye-catching cinematography of Janusz Kamiski, and the magnificent score of John Williams on a small box in the corner of a room, watched through stolen glances, and competing with never-ending text messages and an endless Instagram feed.
The Fabelmans Movie Review: In Conclusion
The Fabelmans is not Steven Spielberg’s best movie, nor is it the best movie ever made on the filmmaking process. It is, nevertheless, one of the best films that Steven Spielberg has produced in recent years, and, most importantly, it is a demonstration of the transformational power of film and the effect that it can have on the life of a young person.
Spielberg, along with George Lucas, is credited with accidentally giving birth to the blockbuster way back in the New Hollywood era, a development that forever altered the film industry.
Spielberg has once again demonstrated to the world the significance of movies by means of The Fabelmans.
They are important not because of interconnected universes or multimedia franchises, but rather because of the amazement that may be inspired by a moving picture, even if it is something as basic as repeatedly watching a toy train crash.