Written by: Steven Spielberg & Tony Kushner
Starring: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Gabriel LaBelle, Judd Hirsch
Striving to do what one loves is an aspiration for anyone where they can pursue their dreams and strive for a sense of self-realization. However, that aforementioned goal focuses a lot on self and as The Fabelmans depicts through its coming-of-age tale, this pursuit does not necessarily mean everything else around you will fall into place. Through heartbreak, familial troubles, and moments of discovery, this feature shows a master filmmaker looking back on his life but does not quite bring it all together as cohesively as one should expect.
After being taken to the movies for the first time by his parents, Sam Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) becomes obsessed with the idea of making movies. He utilizes that to entertain but also capture critical moments throughout his life. All of this occurs as his own family structure reaches the point of crumbling with his parents having marital issues.
The trend of directors looking back on their lives and crafting autobiographical tales has been all the rage recently as a good amount of modern masters are reaching the point where they see the end on their horizon. It allows for a level of reflection on where it all started and what affected them the most throughout their journey to the apex of their profession. This has come in so many different forms and very much connects with the filmmaker’s style in putting it all together. With Steven Spielberg, knowing how he crafts his films, you just knew it would be focusing on the domestic side with families being such a large aspect of his filmography. It’s what he does along with his blockbusters, but what disappoints the most about The Fabelmans is that after all the fanfare, it just proved to be a standard coming-of-age film rather than something that stands out as the story of Spielberg.
That may sound like sacrilege to say because this man has crafted some of the greatest films ever made and comfortably sits on the Mount Rushmore of American filmmakers. But when everything gets pieced together as a whole and it all gets laid out, it all feels quite underwhelming to the point of, if this were not about Spielberg and his childhood, this film would not get the plaudits it’s receiving. It all comes down to this story not carrying that much intrigue and sitting at a whopping 151 minutes, the film more than overstayed its welcome for what it had to say.
Now, with all of those negatives out of the way and with the Spielberg pitchforks sharpened, this feature does have so much to appreciate because this film is, after all, made by Steven Spielberg. That fact cannot be forgotten as the man rarely puts out subpar efforts. Even with not having the most intriguing story tell this film is crafted very handsomely, which makes sense considering he is teaming up with Janusz Kamiński once again. Some shots are absolutely beautiful to look at and it reminds you of what makes this man an undisputed legend. Whether it be the scenes where young Sam admires his film creations or in the editing process, this feature shines.
The moments of brilliance it does have to offer happen in various segments throughout the feature and each can be picked out for what they individually contribute to the tale being told. This includes a wonderful cameo of David Lynch portraying a famous director, or the scene where Sam uncovers a horrifying revelation about his mother. They all work in their moments, but when pieced all together it proves that they do not measure up to the sum of their parts, unfortunately, especially when you have segments that absolutely drag, especially in the third act with a high school plot line that does not work.
With Spielberg being famous for his dramatic projects in the 2010s and major blockbusters in the 20th century, this feature might just be his funniest. I cannot recall the last time I laughed this much during a Spielberg movie. Whether it be the scene at the very end or moments where Sam interacts with his high school girlfriend, his collaboration here with Tony Kushner definitely yielded moments where you can laugh at the circumstances he finds himself in all anchored by a tremendous breakout performance by Gabriel LaBelle, who stands out amongst the rest. Especially compared to Michelle Williams, who felt like she was in a completely different movie and I actively hated whatever it was that Spielberg asked her to be in this feature. Everyone else in the cast served as a bright spot and special plaudits should go to Julia Butters and Keely Karsten who portray Sam’s sisters. They make the most of the limited screen time they receive.
This review presents plenty of negativity about this film, but that comes with the expectations of a Spielberg film. When you’re one of the greatest directors to ever live, the bar is as high as it can be and this feature simply does not measure up. It says a lot that despite the negativity of this review I still give this film a positive score as Spielberg is still a tremendous filmmaker, which should not be forgotten. Even his more middling films are better than what others can ever dream of.