The Fabelmans (2022) Review!!

Synopsis – Growing up in post-World War II era Arizona, a young man named Sammy Fabelman discovers a shattering family secret and explores how the power of films can help him see the truth.

My Take – With films like Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Jurassic Park (1993), Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Lincoln (2012), and Bridge of Spies (2015), filling up his portfolio, Steven Spielberg, is arguably the greatest film auteur of the last century. And despite 50 years of making films, Spielberg is still, in the 2020s, finding new avenues to deliver resoundingly for his audience.

However, his latest is probably his most personal work yet, and a massive change of pace for a filmmaker who his mostly known to be associated to epic kind of films. Structured as a coming of age story, which he co-wrote with Tony Kushner (Lincoln, Munich), that is universal in its portrayal of misunderstood artists and broken homes, here, Spielberg provides some insight into what psychologically shaped one of the world’s most famous directors.

Sure, it isn’t his best work and yet like most of his output it is a joy to watch. At 151 minutes, for a semi-auto biopic it should feel self-indulgent, but it never does, mainly as it is a love letter to everyone who made Steven Spielberg the man he is today, from his sisters, his crush, his friends, and even a high school bully.

More than anything, this is a film about Spielberg trying to see his mother and understand her, and thanks to the writing and Michelle Williams‘ raw performance, it becomes a heartbreaking and heartwarming experience.

With its familiar Amblin magic sprinkled all over, the film also acts as ode to the process of creating art, telling stories, finding inspiration, and mustering the courage to go beyond your own struggles and frustrations to inspire others with characters that spark hope on screen. Something that is both painful and joyful to watch.

The story follows Samuel “Sammy” Fabelman (Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord), a young boy who upon seeing his first motion picture, The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), is left both traumatized and fascinated by a train crash sequence that has filled his nightmares. To control and understand his fear, he begins a journey of home films. Sammy’s love for film is fueled by his mother, Mitzi (Michelle Williams), who, on her own, is a larger-than-life character who never succumbed to the confines of urban life.

On the contrary, his father (Paul Dano) seems to view film making as a mere hobby, never taking it seriously as a career option for his son. The contrast between Sammy’s parents makes him even more determined to tell stories, always looking for new pieces of gear to make even bigger, more impressive films with his friends. And as he grows, we spend the majority of the film with his teenage self (Gabriel LaBelle), as he wrestles with his passion while grappling with the slow decay of his parents’ marriage.

Yes, director Spielberg and co-writer Tony Kushner pack a lot into the film, yet the film is throughout funny, warm and loving, and complicated, in an authentically familial way. The film’s narrative may seem a bit sporadic with its organic flow of events that break free from typical story structures, and some viewers may feel the stakes are not as high or compelling especially since we know Sammy ends up being one the greatest directors of all time, but this remains a deeply personal account that is both illuminating and touching.

Yes, the film so intimate and revealing about one’s own family could end up being somewhat maudlin, but Spielberg’s direction is lively and even mischievous here. Here, he handles the marital breakdown skillfully, as something inevitable, keeps the melodramatics minimal and tries to see their sides of the story.

The tale of Sammy Fabelman is one where the flaws and chaos of his family life are charming rather than exasperating; where his mother is a free spirit and an artist more than just a deeply unhappy and perturbed woman; where his father is not the quitter who would inspire many absentee fathers in director Spielberg‘s films, but a caring, if stern, genius whose children simply aren’t as excited to talk about magnetic fields and circuits as he is. In addition, Burt is blind to how deep Sammy’s passion for cinema goes.

He is particularly traumatic for Sammy to discover that Mitzi is more taken romantically with the less talented Benny (Seth Rogan), Burt’s colleague and supposedly best friend. Benny is less intellectually gifted than Burt, but he is heartier, wittier, and more humanly connected.

Director Spielberg never handles the triangle crudely, and depicts the differences between the men subtly without making one or the other more desirable. Nor does the film place the blame on either Burt or Mitzi for the failure of the marriage. Shot with a bright, almost dream-like quality, almost as if to bring the artifice of the story to the surface, and as a reminder that this is but an idealized and fictional version of true events.

The film is also a giant love letter to his love of cinema. He paints an emotional picture of the way Sammy’s home films impact those around him, how it brings his friends joy to see themselves on screen, and how it brings sorrow to those who see Sammy capture a side of themselves they wanted to be hidden. Sammy sees the world in ways no one else around him does – and he learns that life isn’t like the films – but nevertheless tries to make work that helps him understand life and make it a bit better.

The film’s most memorable and best written scene, comes when Mitzi’s Uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch), tells Sammy what it’s like to be an artist, summing up the whole point of the film. To create art is to suffer, sacrifice and pay the price. Aside from all the glamor, success and fame that may come along with it, a true artist remains tormented with his ambitions and never-ending urge to give birth to his ideas. Remember that pain, he tells Sammy, for that pain is the hallmark of a true storyteller.

Performance wise, Gabriel LaBelle is perfect, and not just because he looks like young Spielberg. LaBelle works wonders as teenage Sammy, bringing joy and laughter to the role. The same goes for Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord. As Sammy’s mother, Michelle Williams is the heart and soul of the film, drawing us to her elusive, fascinating character full of life, and as we get to know later, despair. Her frustration with living a life that limits her potential, while ensuring her son gets to develop his talent and ability to inspire others with his imagination, is quite affecting.

Paul Dano, whose look and vibe has usually been used for creepiness, is successfully softer here. His performance unusual and specific that is propelled by a weird energy that makes Dano very comforting. In supporting roles, Seth Rogen does his usual likable shtick, while Judd Hirsch more than makes up for it in his brief appearance. David Lynch also appears in hilarious cameo. In other roles, Jeannie Berlin, Robin Bartlett, Keeley Karsten, Julia Butters, Chloe East, Sam Rechner, Oakes Fegley and Gabriel Bateman play their parts efficiently. On the whole, ‘The Fabelmans’ is a delightful coming-of-age memoir that is both emotional and endearing.

Directed –

Starring – Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen

Rated – PG13

Run Time – 151 minutes

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