The Fablemans Movie Review
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George Lucas. Martin Scorsese. Alfred Hitchcock. All legendary in their craft but there is one director that stands above all others in the history of cinema: Steven Spielberg. Lucas revolutionized effects. Martin Scorsese films exemplify grit and toughness. Alfred Hitchock has long been considered the “master of suspense.” But Spielberg perfected the family film and brings one thing to every film that can never be matched. Heart.
So it only makes sense that Spielberg’s newest film The Fabelmans tugs at all sorts of heartstrings. One minute it’s touching, the next minute it’s funny, then onto sad, and eventually back to heartwarming again. Based much on his own upbringing, the semi-autobiographical film is his most personal yet – one that often found the beloved director in tears on set as he watched scenes mirroring his life as a child and teen reflected right in front of him. Spielberg said in a recent interview, “it wasn’t about metaphor, it was about memory.”
Following Sammy (played mostly by newcomer Gabriel Labelle), his family, including parents Burt (Paul Dano) and Mitzi (Michelle Williams), and Sammy’s “Uncle” Bennie (Seth Rogen), The Fabelmans navigates the highs and lows of a middle-class Jewish family over a 15-year period.
Beginning with a young Sammy taking in his first movie – The Greatest Show on Earth just like Spielberg – the admiration and awe-inspiring moment forever changes his life, opening his eyes in wonder to what a camera can do. While his engineer father supports Sammy partaking in the newfound passion, he views it year after year as nothing more than a hobby, expecting Sammy to eventually give it up to focus on academics. Sammy’s mother, however, a wildly eccentric musician, understands the power of art, and always has his back having given up her dreams years earlier of being a concert pianist. Mitzi exclaims at one point, “In this family it’s the scientists versus the artists. Sammy’s on my team, takes after me.” But it’s not just Sammy’s passion that brings strife to the family – a secret that is eventually exposed forever changes everything for the Fabelmans.
At its heart, Spielberg says The Fabelmans is “about family. It’s about parents. It’s about siblings. It’s about bullying. It’s about the good and bad things growing up in a family that stays together until they’re no longer together.” That much is true, especially as many of the themes touched upon are still relevant today. Yet, for a man who directed some of the most iconic films of all time (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T.), The Fabelmans is shockingly forgettable. On paper, it feels like a can’t miss film. A story about how the famous director came to be and the struggles he encountered along the way sounds like a sure fire hit, but somehow it never gets there. Scenes of Sammy and his friends riding their bikes down the street elicit memories of Elliott and Gertie biking down the street with E.T. Sammy’s filming of his homemade film Escape to Nowhere feels like a rough draft for Saving Private Ryan. Watching Sammy experiment and hone his film-making skills are magical. But a severely bloated running time of 151 minutes and a script that knows where it wants to go, but slogs through too much after the opening scene doom the film.
Still, as mediocre as The Fabelmans is, it will certainly be feted by the Academy because Hollywood loves Steven Spielberg (rightfully so), but above all else, it loves a story about one of its own. Best Picture nomination? Check. nomination. Best Actress nomination? In one pivotal scene alone, as the camera focuses solely on Michelle Williams’ face as the secret is outed, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else taking home the award. And a Best Supporting Actor nomination? Check. Judd Hirsch’s brief role as Mitzi’s Uncle Boris is well deserving of a nomination.
America has fallen in love with Steven Spielberg’s magical and memorable movies time and time again. Sadly, history doesn’t repeat itself this time around.