Directed by Steven Spielberg.
With Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, Jeannie Berlin, Julia Butters, Robin Bartlett, Keeley Karsten and Sophia Kopera.
Growing up in post-World War II Arizona, aged seven to eighteen, a young man named Sammy Fabelman uncovers a heartbreaking family secret and explores how the power of movies can help him see the truth.
It is without a doubt Steven Spielberg is one of the best visionary directors of all time. Over his 50-year career, he has proven himself to be a very versatile filmmaker with adventurers like IndianaJones frankness, brutal dramas like Schindler’s list and Saving Private Ryan or classic science fiction with Dating of the Third Kind and HEY It even veered into the musical genre with last year’s remake West Side Story. His latest film offers something far more personal than The Fabelmans is inspired by his own childhood with how he got into filmmaking and how his parents’ marriage fit into his growing passion.
Gabriel LaBelle stars as Sam Fabelman, a young man who becomes obsessed with making movies after his parents take him to see John Ford. The man who shot Liberty Vance as a child. Sam is a stand-in for the young Spielberg and LaBelle portrays him with great enthusiasm and imagination, finding new ways to experiment with his own films on the creative and technical side of the camera.
However, The Fabelmans is as much a family story as it is centered on Sam’s parents, Burt and Mitzi, played by Paul Dano and Michelle Williams respectively, and how their own beliefs and jobs affect Sam. Much like Spielberg’s own father, Burt is an electrical engineer heavily involved in creating computers while Mitzi, like her mother, is a pianist who has largely given up on her dream of playing in big concerts and orchestras.
Spielberg and co-writer Tony Kushner go to great lengths to show that Sam is inspired by both of his parents as Burt is fascinated by any technology, often going into extraordinary detail to explain it to his family, while Mitzi is a much more creative mind. The divide, however, is how Burt doesn’t view filmmaking as anything more than a hobby, hoping that Sam will put his technical aptitude to academic use while Mitzi fuels his creative impulses. A standoff between the parents over Sam’s future is where most stories would prioritize drama, but Spielberg and Kushner instead pay more attention to his relationship with them, especially with his mother as he uncovers the hidden cracks in their marriage.
Dano and Williams turn in great performances as Fabelman parents, each showing their strengths and weaknesses within the family. Williams displays a wide emotional range as Mitzi, from her love and compassion with her children to her facade of happiness as her marriage slowly crumbles.
Much like LaBalle, Dano gets very energetic when talking about the technical aspects of a machine, something he has to do several times throughout the film and often out of breath as he can barely contain himself, and balances his love and encouragement for Sam’s creativity with a more pragmatic realism. He and Williams share some really great chemistry and it’s clear even when the cracks in Burt and Mitzi’s marriage become harder to ignore, they still love each other dearly, portraying a more complex marriage and parenting than either. of them being simply wrong.
The supporting actors all do well in their roles. Seth Rogen as Bennie, a family friend and honorary uncle who works with Burt. Rogen offers a lot of levity in portraying the playful uncle, but also shows some serious moments with Sam and others. There’s a scene where LaBelle barely says a line while Rogen does the majority of the talking, knowing when to back off and reacting to LaBelle’s body language when her movements say more than any dialogue.
Julia Butters and Keeley Karstan may not have a lot of time as Sam’s younger sisters, but they exude youthful energy from participating in some of Sam’s movies. Sam’s mother with a deadpan wit and Judd Hirsch in a small but memorable role as his great-uncle Boris who is both comedic and dramatic as he gives Sam some battle advice on art and family.
This is where a large part of The Fabelmans‘ the themes lie while Sam doesn’t yet understand the balance a passionate artist is sometimes forced to make between his art and his family. It’s certainly a rift between Sam and his dad, much like his parents’ marriage, but the film still retains an uplifting and optimistic feel about dreams and the need to create. The visuals are fantastic, especially in the way Spielberg peels back the layers of how his early shorts were made during filming and in post. Legendary composer John Williams teams up with Spielberg once again for an emotional score while the rhythm and songwriting draw you pretty well into the Fabelman family.
For arguably Spielberg’s most personal work to date, The Fabelmans is a sympathetic and moving portrait of the rise of a young filmmaker in his profession with the support of his family.
Scintillating Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.