THE FABELMANS: Movie Review

The Fabelmans is the 2022 film directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Tony Kushner and Spielberg, and follows the life of Sammy Fabelman as he follows his dreams of becoming a filmmaker. In truth, as most people likely know, The Fabelmans is an autobiographical work based on the life of Spielberg himself, and in particular focuses on his relationship with his parents and family. Dramatizing one’s own life for the big screen is a tricky affair – by design, it requires a level of self-indulgence that The Fabelmans definitely possesses in its 2h 30m runtime, and overcoming that to make a compelling feature film can be a challenge unto itself. Thankfully, when it’s one of the most legendary American filmmakers of all time telling the story of his own life, even many of the inevitable flaws of The Fabelmans are not quite as irksome. Spielberg directs The Fabelmans with his trademark balanced sense of innocence and maturity as well as realism and magic, even if the film ultimately doesn’t feel all that groundbreaking or special by the time the credits roll. This is definitely one of Spielberg’s lower-tiered endeavors, but even when the master is at his worst, the end product still stands apart in the best of ways.

The cast of The Fabelmans is excellent, and the natural chemistry that the family brings together onscreen helps create some of the brightest moments of the film. Paul Dano is, as usual, compelling and charming in his turn as Burt Fabelman, a burgeoning engineer trying to keep his family together. Meanwhile, Michelle Williams turns in a solid albeit not groundbreaking turn as Mitzi Fabelman, a woman grappling with her identity in the wake of a terrible secret that threatens to throw the family in upheaval. Gabriel LaBelle is also noticably excellent as a young Sammy/Steven, even mimicking some of Spielberg’s mannerisms throughout the film. Seth Rogen is also a wonderful addition as Uncle Benny, a family friend of the Fabelmans, who poses an interesting dynamic with the family.

Autobiographical filmmaking is perhaps cinema at its most personal, and often draws potential for pitfalls and challenges, many of which The Fabelmans does stumble into. The film is sometimes meandering and overlong, but director Steven Spielberg composes the best moments of this film with the sensibility of an expert, stitching together nostalgia and memory in an often wonderful mosaic. Although the film details his journey with filmmaking, The Fablemans is as the title suggests, the story of all those who led him to becoming the person he is. This is a cheery and bright film about coming-of-age and movies, and even if it isn’t particularly inventive or a masterpiece, it might be the type of film that audiences will want to see in a year of darker awards contenders.

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