February 9, 2023

THE FABELMANS: Spielberg Gets Personal

2022 / 151 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😺

Directors drawing inspiration from their formative years is nothing new, nor is creating an entire film based on their childhood. But those movies tend to come from independent-minded filmmakers whose work is almost always personal. But Steven Spielberg? Mr. Summer Blockbuster? The most successful director of all time? That’s sort of a surprise.

The fact that The Fabelmans even exists might ultimately be a testament to his Hollywood clout. Personal narratives have never been sure things at the box office. In this era of superheroes and FX-driven spectacles, it’s doubtful even Universal thought this film had a shot at turning a profit, no matter how many accolades it racks up. But I’m sure they forked-over the budget without batting an eye. Hell, it’s the least they could do after all the cash he’s made for them.

The Fabelmans is Spielberg’s own coming-of-age story. Though somewhat fictionalized, it features characters who - despite different names - clearly represent his family and friends. The narrative chronicles the early life of Sammy Fabelman (Gabrielle LaBelle) from the moviegoing experience that changed his life to his first step into the film business. In between, he develops a growing love and talent for making movies with friends, which his mother, Mitzi (Michelle Williams), encourages while self-absorbed dad Burt (Paul Dano) repeatedly dismisses as a hobby. 

Sam's experiences a 'close encounter.'
Sammy’s parents grow increasingly estranged over the years, especially when Burt keeps moving the entire family around the country as his career advances, and Mitzi reveals her love for family friend, ‘Uncle’ Bennie (Seth Rogan). In addition to facing the reality that his parents are fallible human beings, Sammy eventually experiences anti-semitism and the hands of classmates, meets his first love in high school and even considers following Dad’s suggestion to forget aspirations of being a filmmaker.

Affectionate and nostalgic without being overly sentimental, The Fabelmans is obviously Spielberg’s most personal film, but still has his aesthetic stamp all over it. There’s great attention to period detail, right down to depicting the filming and editing techniques Sammy employs while making his grassroots little movies. Those segments are easily the most charming aspects of the film and we get the impression Spielberg relished the opportunity to recreate them.

At times, the episodic structure of the narrative renders the movie a little too meandering, particularly during the final act. But for the most part, The Fabelmans is a heartfelt journey featuring a likable protagonist, relatable family dynamics and strong performances by the entire cast (which includes brief, scene-stealing turns from Judd Hirsch and none other than David Lynch). 


FEATURETTES - The Fabelmans: A Personal Journey”; “Family Dynamics”; Creating the World of The Fabelmans.”


No comments: