"The Fabelmans" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
Steven Spielberg is one of the best and most important filmmakers to ever live. From horror films like "Jaws" to family films like "E.T." to war films like "Schindler's List", Spielberg has been able to prove he is a master of cinema with his extensive filmography. Throughout his career, he said he has been wanting to make a film inspired by his childhood, showing how he fell in love with cinema and filmmaking through interactions he has had with his family and the people he encounters through his various experiences. He has now made that movie. Titled "The Fabelmans", Spielberg and his writing partner, Tony Kushner, has delivered a semi-autobiographical film about his life growing up making movies. While I appreciate the motive and heart behind this film, I'm not a fan of this movie as a whole. There are certain aspects I really like, but they are combined with various elements I do not like at all.
Sammy Fabelman's (Gabriel LaBelle) first experience with cinema is when his parents (Michelle Williams, Paul Dano) take him to see his first film: Cecil B. DeMille's "The Greatest Show on Earth". After watching that movie and being awestruck at what he had seen on the screen, it inspired him to want to make a home video of his toy train crashing. After showing his mom what he had created, she encourages him to chase after his dream of making movies for his friends and family.
The movie progresses through a number of years throughout Sammy's life, showing how his family dynamics change and he starts to gain and lose friends both old and new. Due to his father's job, he is forced to move around the United States, leaving behind everything familiar and diving headfirst in a new and terrifying place. The one thing that remains a constant is his love for film and his passion for filmmaking, which turns into the director audiences all around the world know and love today.
The best thing about this film is you can tell how much passion Spielberg put into this project. He is known for making movies that mean a lot to him, but this is his most personal film to date. He allows the viewer to take a look at his childhood and how he was raised, which is perhaps one of the bravest things a filmmaker or artist could do. For that aspect, I think Spielberg did a great job of really transporting the viewers back in time and make them feel apart of his family for a couple of hours.
However, I don't think this movie does a particularly good job at making the viewer fall in love with the characters. You can tell how much Spielberg loves and appreciates his family members, but they only main character you really like throughout the entire movie is Sammy himself. His family is so dysfunctional and selfish at times that it makes you question their motives and what they gain out of their actions. I understand this is what Spielberg's family may actually be like growing up, but if he wants us to fall for these characters and feel overjoyed at how they treat him, I'm not sure if they do a necessarily good job.
Consider the character of his mom. She is portrayed throughout the entire movie as being this carefree and lovable character, even though she has her major flaws and emotional problems. The film wants to make her a redeemable character and she has good intentions, but it is obvious through her actions and dialogue that she really only cares about herself. In a way, it sort of makes all the characters like this. A majority of the characters are mean and cruel to Sammy, yet he still puts up with them and wants to have relationships with these people. In a way, it almost feels like Spielberg is sort of bragging on himself and showing how good of a person and filmmaker he is.
In terms of acting performances, I think a majority of them here are good. I think LaBelle definitely has a long and fruitful career, and Dano really gives it his all in this performance. This will probably come as a very unpopular opinion, but I did not like Williams' performance here whatsoever. I understand Spielberg's mother might have been that eccentric and over-the-top, but Williams delivers this performance in a tacky and overtly fake way. Her performance really takes you out of the movie, and I thought this might have been one of her worst performances.
In a way, this film feels like it is two different films, switching gears at the halfway point. The first half is slow and odd in terms of how Spielberg was trying to tell the story, and then switches to a more focused and enjoyable second half. I think the second half shows Spielberg knowing what he wants to do exactly with this film and show why this film has been conceived in the first place; even though the first half is so unfocused and all over the place, I think he really redeems himself in the second half.
This is one of Spielberg's inevitable lesser-than films, and even then, it's not that bad. John Ford (played by beloved director, David Lynch) says that the horizon has to be at either the top or the bottom to be interesting, while it is boring in the middle. Well, this movie has the horizon in the middle unfortunately. This shows how even a great filmmaker like Spielberg can falter here and there. While I think there is a lot to love here, there is a lot that wasn't done so well. Even though this movie flounders, there is no denying that it is jam-packed full of heart and soul, which shows Spielberg still has it; I can't wait to see what he does next.