REVIEW – “The Fabelmans”

Here lately, there’s no shortage when it comes to films about acclaimed director’s childhoods – from Roma to Belfast, it’s an undeniable trend in Hollywood. However, when it comes to The Fabelmans and the likes of Steven Spielberg as a figure in the industry as a whole, it just feels a little different. The Fabelmans doesn’t just feel different because it can’t really be boxed in the same category as specifically an autobiography, a movie about his parents, or how he learned to make/love movies – it’s simply all of these things compiled into one, sprawling picture. The Fabelmans feels like a deeply intimate piece of art that Spielberg has wanted to make for years, and yet could only do it when he felt this vulnerable about himself and his family – and it’s this vulnerability and sense of emotion that makes the film work as well as it does.

Naturally, the film begins at a movie theater where Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano) taking their son Sammy (Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord as Young Sammy and Gabrielle LaBelle as Teenage Sammy) to his very first movie – The Greatest Show on Earth. From the moment the picture flickers in the dark cinema, Sammy is transfixed on what he’s experiencing; so much so that he can’t even put it to words when his mother asks him how he enjoyed the film during the car ride home. The love and wonder that the film has for the art of cinema, and also for how deeply tied it is with his parents and how they brought that wonder to him, is carried on within every subsequent sequence in The Fabelmans and embodies what makes it so personal and interesting. This very easily could’ve just been about Spielberg’s greatest hits, or he could have only made a film about his parents – but he makes sprawling, emotional epic of sorts that hits nearly every note it tries to tackle.

For a large majority of the film, Gabrielle LaBelle takes over the reigns of Sammy as he grows into a teenager. This paves way for the some of the film’s best sequences, like Sammy making movies with his friends for the first time and seeing how each subsequent film he makes after that has improved technique and visuals. LaBelle perfectly embodies this middle-ground between childlike wonder for the art of filmmaking, an urge to be a man so he can pursue his dreams, but most especially an aching, saddened kid who can’t help but notice the cracks in his parents marriage. Dano and Williams’ chemistry together is palpable and heartbreaking at times, especially as you see the ripple effects it has on the family as a whole.

At 151 minutes, can the film feel a bit overlong? Sure. But considering how it tells nearly two decades worth of a family’s story, and all the nuances that affect their daily struggle, I have no clue how you could make this shorter. Even from a technical perspective, The Fabelmans feels like one of Spielberg’s most accomplished films in years – all of his direction feels so seamless and restrained in a very deliberate way, the score from John Williams is predictably amazing, and the vintage style of the film within the cinematography from DP Janusz Kamiński is absolutely spell-binding at points. All of this forms together to create a film that feels like pure magic – the type of film that was poured straight from the heart.


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