Directed by Steven Spielberg, The Fabelmans is written by Spielberg and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, who has earned Oscar® nominations for his screenplays for Spielberg’s Lincoln and Munich. The film is produced by three-time Oscar® nominee Kristie Macosko Krieger p.g.a. (West Side Story, The Post), Steven Spielberg p.g.a. and Tony Kushner p.g.a.
The film stars Gabriel LaBelle as 16-year-old aspiring filmmaker Sammy Fabelman; four-time Academy Award® nominee Michelle Williams as his artistic mother, Mitzi; Paul Dano as his successful, scientific father, Burt; Seth Rogen as Bennie Loewy, Burt’s best friend and honorary “uncle” to the Fabelman children, and Academy Award® nominee Judd Hirsch as Mitzi’s Uncle Boris.
What We Thought:
Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical ode to cinema The Fabelmans will make you want to grab your camera and make movies. Because if this movie can get made and released then anything is possible. I kid, I kid. Sort of. The flick didn’t work for me and I’ll explain why.
The biggest problem with the film is when it’s not about the main character. In the movie you meet Sammy Fabelman who is pretty much a young Steven Spielberg. You witness his first time seeing a movie on the big screen. You witness his first time shooting on film. You see him age and fall more and more in love with film and filmmaking. That’s all cool and very entertaining. The actor playing the teen version of Sammy is solid and it’s all rather interesting. Spielberg is a master filmmaker, a story about his love for movies and how he shot early work should be right up my alley.
Unfortunately a ton of time is spent on the mother character played by Michelle Williams. I’ll be honest, I did not like her performance in the slightest. She’s usually good or at least doesn’t hurt a project, but she does a weird accent and has an even worse haircut throughout a decade plus of life. I did not like her in this role whatsoever. Most scenes with her took me completely out of the film and I’m genuinely shocked by that. I usually think she does solid work and knowing how Hollywood loves movies about movies she’ll probably get nominated for awards here when in reality she overacts the entire film.
Also, there are so many scenes that just beat you over the head that it all feels excessive. There is an editing scene where Sammy is editing family camping trip footage that just goes on forever. He realizes something is happening in his family (that I won’t spoil) and it goes on for minutes. We got it in the first 30 seconds, it didn’t need to be that long. He then shows that footage to someone later on and that scene doesn’t feel as impactful because we know what’s being shown already because of how long the editing scene was. Same for a dance scene by Williams on the camping trip that goes on far too long. Same for some piano playing scenes or even Judd Hirsh’s entire role. None of that really adds anything to the film. Obviously Spielberg’s mother and things she did had a major impact on his life, but so much feels heavy handed and excessive.
The worst part is, there are things in The Fabelmans I genuinely liked. As Sammy learns to make movies you see techniques and tricks that a kid would use shooting back in the 1960s. There is one trick Spielberg has talked about before that he used in his early war movie and I cheered when I saw it in this film. There is a great scene towards the end when he meets a famous director as well. The rest is just bogged down by a bizarre performance from Michelle Williams, a lackluster Paul Dano and Seth Rogen pretty much playing himself. I can’t believe I didn’t like a Steven Spielberg movie about himself and filmmaking. I’m actually bummed about not liking it.