THE FABELMANS (2022)
Release Date: 11/23/22 [Cinemas]
Studio: Universal Pictures
"Growing up in post-World War II era Arizona, young Sammy Fabelman aspires to become a filmmaker as he reaches adolescence, but soon discovers a shattering family secret and explores how the power of films can help him see the truth."
OUR MOVIE REVIEW:
Steven Spielberg has started his career from a young age, and he’s built himself as one of the best known filmmakers to ever live, cementing himself among other legends such as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and John Ford. He’s the only film director to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director in every decade for the last seven decades. He’s found success in making large blockbuster films, and merging that success into his exploration of dramas, science-fiction, and fantasy. Always entertaining, Spielberg certainly knows how to play an audience, and create a film that is always the most broadly enjoyable to the masses. Occasionally, that can result in cliche scripts, basic themes, standard acting performances, and just a general “nothing special” sort of feeling. To appeal to general audiences a film needs to be generic, but as long as it’s entertaining, sometimes that’s all you need to make it work. In his semi-autobiographical film The Fabelmans, Spielberg accomplishes just that. While the film feels a little bit too self-indulgent, overly nostalgic, and features absolutely no memorable or outstanding performances from any of the cast, The Fabelmans still succeeds in pulling at audience’s heartstrings and making them fall in love with the fictional story of his upbringing.
The Fabelmans centers on young Sammy Fabelman (loosely based on Spielberg himself as a teenager), and how he eventually falls in love with film, and how he begins to see different members of his family in a different light after their response to his “hobby”. Gabriel LaBelle really holds down the film as teenage Sammy Fabelman, and is a great centerpiece that the audience can easily emotionally relate to, and he really becomes the core of the film. A lot of his own emotional journey strongly centers around his relationship with his mother, played by Michelle Williams, and how the changes in their lives affect each other. While being one of the biggest draws for the film, Williams' character doesn’t really have much nuance to her, and often comes across as just one note throughout most of the film. Unfortunately, she’s often written as the shallow and easily smitten character that's enchanted by anything that moves in front of her eyes. It’s frustrating after about the first half hour of the runtime, but it’s part of that classic Spielberg charm that he somehow makes this incredibly boring character work as the second emotional core.
Knowing that this is based on Spielberg’s own life, it feels a bit overly indulgent to create a fictional family to convey the experiences he had as a young adult. Biopics often take liberties with historical accuracy, characters, and different events that happened, so it would make sense to make these characters true to Spielberg’s own upbringing. However, when he chooses to fictionalize it, Spielberg centers himself as the main character and the hero of his own story. It feels almost arrogant to position himself as the prodigy teenager whom others just “don’t understand”.
John Williams, similar to Spielberg, is known for his iconic scores. Everyone knows the themes to Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and Indiana Jones, but his score in this film does nothing really special. It easily blends into what else is happening in the film, but it also seems like that’s exactly what this film needs. The score helps embellish the emotional beats that occur throughout the film, without distracting the audience to the main drama occurring between the characters on screen, even if it is a bit mundane.
It might sound like this film was a huge miss all around, but I really cannot emphasize enough how much Spielberg makes this all work. Sure, it’s cliche and I feel like I’ve seen a hundred other films just like it, and other films that have done a similar story even better, but the sentimentality of this film really works to make an audience emotionally invested, and I care about the emotional journey that Sammy goes on. It might not be the best thing you’ve ever seen, but if you want that classic Spielberg feel, a feel-good type of movie, or something that you can take the entire family to over the Thanksgiving holiday, I could not recommend anything more perfect to see.