The Fabelmans (Review): Made Me Cry

The Fabelmans is essentially Steven Spielberg’s self-made biopic… but a fictionalized version of his life. Read for my thoughts on this semi-autobiography…

Film enamours Sam Fabelman from his first theatrical experience. Sam spends his childhood, from then on, experimenting with the medium– as a means to control the chaos which surrounds him at home. He clings to his art for solace as he matures and grows to understand his parents.

One of the greatest compliments I can give a film is to say it left me wanting more. I easily could have watched another hour of this, and was actually sad when it ended. Time practically flew by in my theatre. So I declare that Spielberg paced this film excellently!

Actually, Spielberg’s general direction is masterful (though I knew it would be)! His portrayal of Sam’s film screenings especially impressed. Sam’s shorts are low-budget and amateur, but their presentation is freaking magical! These screenings, and the audiences’ reactions to them, well establish Sam’s raw talent and encourage our curiosity in his continued growth.

Speaking of those low-budget films: Sam’s inventiveness impresses me. He practically performs miracles whilst saddled with no budgets, and the below-average talents of his actors (childhood friends, and his sisters). I know firsthand how hard it is for directorial vision to exceed practical capability. So I knew early on Sam was a good director when he overcame his circumstances to release watchable products.

The Fabelmans excels with its complex family dynamic. Lesser films would force Sam to prefer one parent at the expense of his relationship to the other. And Sam clearly DOES have his preference. But he loves and rebels against each parent in near equal measure. Both mother and father deserve his respect and frustration. Yet we’re made to understand all sides of the respective issues Sam and his parents face.

My main complaint about the Fabelman family’s portrayal was its execution of Sam’s sisters. Though the film is called “The Fabelmans“, it’s really about 3 of the 6 family members. Sam’s sisters are important insofar as they relate to Sam’s story. That’s fine for what it is. It’s just a shame the film doesn’t expand upon them any more.

The Fabelmans depicts disturbingly down-to-earth cases of anti-semitism. I’m used to modern films writing hateful characters and events with little nuance. Case in point: the anti-semites in The Fabelmans aren’t neo-Nazis or facists, but run-of-the-mill bullies. They’re not strictly speaking evil, but they can and do cause harm to Sam’s life and mental health. This, to me, makes their backwards beliefs all the more unnerving, because there’s more guys like this out there than skinheads.

Speaking of mental health issues: The Fabelmans tackles these as well, though less successfully. Mitzi Fabelman is clearly unwell. But nobody knows what ails her. We’re merely shown how her issues manifest in self-destructive (and sometimes dangerous) ways which hurt her family.

She remains a sympathetic character. But I would have liked to learn more about WHY she was ill, and how she dealt with her struggles. We receive the barest tease of the later, but not enough for me.

Michelle Williams, in any case, proves the stand-out actor amongst this talented cast. Her work here mesmerized me! Other actors I wish to highlight: Gabriel LaBelle, Paul Dano, and Seth Rogan. This might be the best I’ve ever seen Rogan perform in a film.

Performances across the board feel real– uncomfortably so at times. Each character’s emotions, from anxiety to humor, were balanced and nuanced. Their minds were three-dimensional, and their actions flowed logically.

The Fabelmans well executes its theme about following passion, wherever it leads. What makes said execution so powerful is Sam’s abundance of challenges, from within and without, to make his dreams come true. He learns that film is, in large part, about capturing truth through the eyes of a camera. And sometimes that truth hurts. But he can choose where to point his camera, and how to portray said truths– and, in so doing maintain control of his own life.

Sam also learns that a life dedicated to art has its consequences. Family and friends become subjects and characters rather than people, you are forced to become an outsider who observes the world (rather than an active participant in it), and no great art can please everybody. These are all hard but necessary truths anyone in the arts must face to grow.

Janusz Kamiński’s cinematography gives The Fabelmans more visual appeal than other dramas in its vein. It’s a pretty-looking movie for such subdued subject matter. But then again a film about film-making ought not to look dull.

John Williams composed a deeply moving score for this film. You all know by now that the man is a genius. Nuff said. Just listen to it!

The Fabelmans felt like watching my last decade on screen. Sam’s all-consuming passion for film-making resonated with my own. And the way his family treats him was too relatable: Sam’s sisters act in his childhood shorts for fun, his practical-minded father mistakes his creative outlet as a mere hobby (though is entertained by the results), and his talented mother supports him fully because she was a former artist who put aside her dreams to raise a family. It’s difficult for me to explain why, but I left the theatre crying.

The Fabelmans is an open and vulnerable portrait of Spielberg’s childhood, which I thank him for sharing with us (if only in fictionalized form). Few movies have moved me to tears, but this now ranks among them.

Any aspiring artist or Spielberg fan Must See The Fabelmans.

What Steven Spielberg’s most memorable movie? What did you think of The Fabelmans? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know.

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Till next time,

Joe Morin

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.


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