MOVIE THEATER REVIEW: “The Fabelmans” stars Gabriel LaBelle (The Predator, Dead Shack), Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea, My Week with Marilyn), Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, Love & Mercy), Seth Rogen (Superbad, Pineapple Express), Keeley Karsten (Hunters [TV series], Viceroy [Short]), Julia Butters (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 13 Hours), Judd Hirsch (Taxi [TV series], A Beautiful Mind), Robin Bartlett (Shutter Island, City of Angels), Sam Rechner (Ruby’s Choice), Chloe East (The Wolf of Snow Hollow, Kevin [Probably] Saves the World [TV series]), Isabelle Kusman (Licorice Pizza, Sissy [Short]), Oakes Fegley (This Is Where I Leave You, Pete’s Dragon ), and Mateo Zoryan. It is directed by Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), who wrote the screenplay with Tony Kushner (Munich, Lincoln).
Based on true events, this film follows Sammy Fabelman (LaBelle) as he develops his love of filmmaking while witnessing the deterioration of his parents’ marriage.
Years ago, a documentary detailing Spielberg’s life was released to cable network. I remember watching it and being incredibly fascinated. The dysfunction of this man’s family – culminating to a painful divorce of his parents – informed the masterful stories he would put up on the big screen early in his career. Like most aspiring filmmakers, Steven Spielberg was/is an immense inspiration to me. He redefined cinema, gifting us with beloved classics that have shaped our childhoods. And now, his unabashed life story finally unfolds on the big screen in narrative form with “The Fabelmans.”
If you’re a filmmaker or lover of cinema, you will gravitate toward many elements of this feature. Seeing a young man in the 50’s/60’s develop his love of filmmaking into a craft sparked such delight and drive within me; I resonated with his passion, and knew that I would walk away having been impacted. What I didn’t know, however, was just how tragic this tale would be. While it may have moments of fun in making home videos/short films, a majority of this story focuses on the lead’s home life, and how it ends up falling apart.
In his later years, Spielberg has been hit-or-miss for me. I loved “Bridge of Spies,” thought “The Post” was fine, and didn’t care for his interpretation of “West Side Story.” With “The Fabelmans,” Spielberg reclaims his glory by penning a heartfelt, saddening love letter to his family and upbringing. His frequent writing collaborator, Tony Kushner, joined him to fit this autobiographical tale on the page, and did an immensely great job. I was deeply engaged with this picture; it’s a coming-of-age story built on both heartfelt and heartbreaking moments. Almost all of which I was fascinated in, much like the documentary on his life.
The cast in this are quite spectacular. Gabriel LaBelle plays the lead (sixteen-year-old Sammy Fabelman) fantastically, steering the ship well and offering a somewhat similar resemblance to a young Spielberg. His siblings in this are also great, but the real MVPs (and potential Oscar nominees) lie in his parents, played by Michelle Williams and Paul Dano. My goodness. Those two are phenomenal. If Williams doesn’t get a nomination, I will be genuinely upset. Her role of Mitzi is so strange, broken, and endearing; she’s a mess, and Williams commanded the screen when she was present. Dano as well did a bang-up job, playing the opposite side of the coin to Williams: a more quiet man with a technical mind. Their contrast and chemistry served as the centerpiece of this narrative, and I loved both of them. Also, I must note Judd Hirsch and Seth Rogen, who filled out the rest of the supporting cast quite wonderfully (Hirsch straight up stealing the few scenes he is in).
From both a technical and creative standpoint, “The Fabelmans” stands tall. I was glued to the screen from beginning to end, rocked to my core regarding the turbulent trials that Sammy would have to endure. Between the sadness are genuine laughs, as the script is also quite funny. Between Sammy testing out a camera by destroying his model train set, getting into heated arguments with his mother, and filming a senior ditch day, there is so much to absorb with this tale. I loved almost every second. But I will admit that a specific message rubbed me the wrong way…
Divorce is a horrible thing, for all parties involved. There’s heartbreak, misunderstanding, and sorrow. I know that Spielberg went on a journey of his own in humanizing his parents, while trying to find some sort of resolve or meaning behind their actions. Particularly, Mitzi. There’s a moment toward the third act where she takes her son aside and expresses herself; why she did what she did. The message is conveyed not only to her son, but the audience as well, in that we can only control ourselves and should seek our own happiness, regardless of how others feel. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but I don’t quite agree with her. While we certainly only have ourselves to control, we should be mindful of those around us. Specifically with marriage, there is great sacrifice. And Mitzi was not having that, because she felt herself withering away. It’s a tragic ordeal, and her speech speaks to herself, but as something for the audience to walk away with… I don’t know. It almost justifies divorce, which I’m not a fan of. I will say, however, that I’m still wrestling with this scene to better understand it.
“The Fabelmans” is one of Spielberg’s best in the last few years. It’s a personal project that oozes with star talent, engaging sequences, and a beautiful score by the one and only John Williams. If you are a fan of Spielberg or the art of filmmaking, you should see it. FINAL SCORE: 94%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: