If Steven Spielberg could pen a love letter to the film industry while also telling a semi-autobiographical story about how he turned his life-long passion into a career, The Fabelmans is what you would get. It’s also a heart-felt dedication to his parents, who encouraged him to work toward that goal at a very young age… even if it was still considered a “hobby.”
Beginning with little Sammy’s first-ever visit to a movie theater, he was instantly infatuated with the train wreck in The Greatest Show on Earth and later recreated the scene with a model set. Scolded for damaging the expensive present, he’s encouraged to do it only once more while using his father’s video camera. Obviously, this scenario sets the wheels in motion for the boy to use his imagination to create a variety of home movies starring friends and family.
Although as the de facto family documentarian, he unknowingly learns a family secret that will eventually tear him apart. And it is this sacrifice of being pulled between his art and his family that will help him become a man.
“Sometimes we just can’t fix things. All we can do is suffer.”
First of all, this isn’t your usual Spielbergian blockbuster. There are no implied plans of turning his childhood into an unspecified number of franchise films that are interconnected, and that is a good thing. This release feels so different from all the others. It feels uber-personal and contained, although it is accessible to the masses. It’s relatable as a coming-of-age story where our hero will do anything it takes to pursue his dreams. What it all boils down to is his extended family and his love of cinema, which builds the foundation of the filmmaker he is today.
One of Spielberg’s best qualities as a director (besides his storytelling) is his ability to present childlike innocence like no other. That, alone, practically turned E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial into a worldwide hit. He’s also done it with other releases as well, but not quite to that degree. It’s safe to say he’s successfully back at it presenting the travails of Sammy, portrayed by Gabriel LaBelle in his teenage years.
The rest of this “out of control, falling-apart family” is highlighted by Paul Dano’s hard-working-but-often-absent provider, Michelle Williams’ impulsive and artistic matriarch (who feeds Sammy’s curiosity), the life lessons of Judd Hirsch’s great-uncle Boris and the friendship of Seth Rogen’s fake Uncle Bennie. As junkies, art is their drug… especially when it’s dangerous.
Overall, The Fabelmans is a nostalgic Technicolor masterpiece. I really enjoyed it more than I’d expected. There’s lots of pent-up emotions that could possibly relieve some of Spielberg’s past childhood traumas, and the horizon is limitless if you keep reaching for the stars is a positive theme. At its conclusion, I was kind of surprised by a joke that broke the fourth wall, but my only complaint is a true missed opportunity. Why some samples of the filmmaker’s childhood films weren’t shown during the end credits, I’ll never know…
“Life’s nothing like the movies…”
Michelle Williams brings the most heart, joy and pain here and because of that, she’s definitely my frontrunner for Best Actress in the current awards season. Surprisingly, Paul Dano should head up many of the Best Supporting Actor nominations, as well. His role might not have been as large, but the actor does a great job with the material he’s presented. And in name recognition alone, Spielberg should join the two actors as Best Director through the duration of the upcoming awards shows, but he truly does make magic here. I’ll be pulling for all three.