‘The Fabelmans’ Review

For whatever reason, it has been extremely common for directors to make autobiographical films about their childhoods lately. Kenneth Branagh’s done it, Paul Thomas Anderson’s done it, James Gray’s done it, and now Steven Speilberg’s done it. While “The Fabelmans” is certainly a great movie, it’s a far more ordinary take on the coming-of-age genre than I was expecting.

The most prevalent criticism I have seen “The Fabelmans” receive is that, if it wasn’t Steven Spielberg directing this, why should we care? Before seeing the film I saw that as overly harsh, but now that I’ve seen it I oddly understand why people are saying that. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with it because of how much of the film I can relate to. The story itself is slightly disjointed jumping between the personal life of Sammy Fabelman and his love of film, but I felt the scenes with his family were slightly distasteful.

I’m not sure what the intention was for Michelle Williams’ portrayal of Mitzi Fabelman, but I ended up not liking this character. It will have to take a rewatch to decide whether it’s Williams’ performance or just how the character was written, but the subplot focused on her character was easily my least favorite part of the film. Partially due to her scenes with Seth Rogen, and those who have seen this movie will know exactly what I’m talking about. The mania Williams displays was difficult to buy.

I felt similarly with Paul Dano, but he doesn’t have as much screen time or development as Williams and isn’t able to display as much range as he did in “The Batman” earlier this year. It’s a fairly standard father role. I can’t think of one bad Dano performance off the top of my head, but this is far from his best.

Regardless of the character of Sammy Fabelman being a mirror image of young Steven Spielberg, this was a character I was able to largely relate to. I think that’s particularly why I feel obligated to like this movie. I was on-set with Gabriel LaBelle shooting a movie, and only being present for a few scenes I never would’ve imagined this kid could give such a great performance. If there’s one person in this movie we should be rallying behind for an Oscar, it shouldn’t be Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, or Judd Hirsch; it should be Gabriel LaBelle.

There’s a scene where Mitzi says the Fabelmans are a family divided into the scientists and the artists, and that Sammy follows after her as an artist. I think that this meant a lot more in regards to the mother and son relationship because Sammy’s empathetic dynamic with his mother shows how selfish they each are. It’s all about how are selfish desires get the better of us, yet all we can do to keep moving on is embrace them.

Would I consider this an Oscar bait movie? Yes, I would, but that term doesn’t always need to be used negatively. Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood, and so do I. Steven Spielberg is close to having his third best director Oscar in the bag, and I think the Academy is going to award him with one more at some point. Why not now? Tony Kushner has been snubbed a few times when collaborating with Spielberg, and now that Spielberg also has a writing credit I believe it’s very likely this could win screenplay and with that package possibly take home Best Picture. All in all, this year it’s down to “The Fabelmans” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

There’s nothing better than a one-scene wonder in a movie, and “The Fabelmans” has two performances from cinema icons. Judd Hirsch shows up for roughly ten minutes as Sammy’s uncle and steals the movie. While I wasn’t a fan of the first act in its entirety, this was the scene where the movie picked up the pace and started getting great.

“The Fabelmans” was a movie that needed to end on the highest note imaginable; it is the origin story of a worldwide icon. The final scene features David Lynch playing director John Ford during the time Spielberg met him in a studio backlot. Lynch only has a few lines, but they went a long way. It mainly has to do with cinematic framing and all I could think of was how much more the final shot of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” means now. The conclusion to “The Fabelmans” is an ending I will be thinking about for a long time.

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