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Quick Review: The Fabelmans
Capture Every Moment
The following is my review for the film The Fabelmans. A reminder, you can click this link to see how I score films when I review them.
A coming-of-age story about a young man’s discovery of a shattering family secret, and an exploration of the power of movies to help us see the truth about each other and ourselves.
When you talk about the greatest directors of all-time, Steven Spielberg’s name certainly comes up - and for good reason. What other Oscar winning director of the modern age has had so many mainstream hits that film buffs will be studying decades after his time on this planet is over? From Jaws to Jurassic Park to Schindler’s List to Saving Private Ryan, its honestly a bit overwhelming how many movies there are to pick from his catalog that everyone is familiar with. Movies we grow up with, movies that film historians praise, and movies that have become cult classics. He may be the Stephen King of the directing field in that respect.
But admittedly I’ve been down on Spielberg over the last decade. Not since 2012’s Lincoln have I walked away from a movie of his loving it. So when word got out that he was going to try his own hand at a Roma and Belfast type of coming-of-age quasi-autobiographical film, two movies that were among my favorites from their respective years and which came *this* close to winning Best Picture, I was instantly in. And that work is now brought to us with The Fabelmans, which as of this writing is the early frontrunner to win that Best Picture prize that has alluded this subgenre of films of late.
The movie is about a young Spielberg’s aspirations to become a Director, personified in the protagonist who goes by the name of Sam. But what I got from it was that it was about much more than that. Yes we follow Sam’s progression from a kid going to his first film to crashing his toy trains for home movies to adding effects and scores to his films. But as Sam chases his dream, reality makes things difficult. Anyone who chases a goal knows that life is filled with inconveniences and distractions that hinder reaching that goal; chaotic little explosions of family drama, relationship troubles, and the like that can create self doubt. For Sam this comes in the form of a family secret that rocks the way he looks at his parents, anti-Semitic school bullies, and a first serious romance. For me, watching him deal with and overcome these things in his pursuit of his dream was inspirational.
The craft that goes into the movie is great on its own as well. Spielberg’s direction is unsurprisingly great, the cinematography is good, and the score knows how to hit the right notes. The writing has some moments of wit and the audience I watched this with had plenty moments they responded to. The performances are all awards-worthy - particularly Michelle Williams and Paul Dano as Sam’s parents, not to mention Gabriel LaBelle’s star-making turn playing our protagonist.
But the movie does have some small nitpicks from me. The pacing can be wonky a few times, it does start to drag by the third act, and the ending (while great) does feel a tad too abrupt. Also like Belfast last year I think this won’t work for a good chunk of cinephiles out there. I can see this becoming the “Film Twitter” villain of the awards season. It’ll be too airy, too bland, too white slice bread for some folks. If there isn’t anything here that you can grab onto such as I did with Sam chasing his dream or others who may come to identify with some of the family drama that plays out, this could easily lose you.
But for me this was my favorite Spielberg film since Lincoln and easily one of my personal favorites from the year. A reminder from Steven that he can still make a hell of a movie. The Fabelmans is inspirational, crowd-pleasing, and heartwarming. It gives me hope that one day I too can overcome the distractions of the chaos that is reality to achieve some of my own goals and dreams.