The Fabelmans Review


Jack Armstrong, Staff Writer

What can truly be said about Steven Spielberg? With such critically acclaimed films such as E.T., Jaws, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and countless others, Steven Spielberg has become a world renowned, filmmaking icon that nearly everyone in the industry looks up to. Few directors have a filmography as impressive as Spielberg. He has been an inspiration to many, including myself, who aspire to direct and act in films that audiences around the world love. Many people love Spielberg’s iconic blockbusters like Jaws and the Indiana Jones series. However, I felt especially drawn to Spielberg’s more character-driven narratives like Catch Me If You Can, Saving Private Ryan, and his remake of the classic Stephen Sondheim musical, West Side Story.  So when it was announced that Spielberg’s newest film would be a semi-autobiographical story about his upbringing to the world of cinema, I was ecstatic. I was excited because not only was Spielberg using a lower budget to tell such a personal story, but actors like Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, and even director David Lynch were joining the cast of this film. The Fabelmans, from the beginning of its trailer to the end, looked promising. While the trailer showed a lot, it felt like there was so much to discover about this family, the place they live, and the impact that film has on the family itself. Whatever it was, I needed to know. I needed to see The Fabelmans.

Throughout my Thanksgiving break, after watching movies like Spirited and Airplane!, The Fabelmans was at the top of my priority list. It wasn’t until Sunday that I finally had the time to watch the film after returning from Indiana. Two and a half hours went by, I walked out of the theater feeling like I could write, direct, record, act, and edit thirty movies with the amount of inspiration that fueled my body. Case and point, The Fabelmans is a film that will easily stand the test of time. With an uplifting, inspiring, yet emotional, heartstring-pulling story, The Fabelmans is one of those films that draws you in from the moment the characters appear on screen.

Sammy Fabelman, born in a Jewish family to Burt Fabelman and Mitzi Fabelman, discovers film at a young age and aspires to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. While creating spaghetti western films and slasher horror flicks with his friends and family, Sammy is stuck in the middle of drama that his parents experience over the course of his youth. But it is through film that Sammy can have an outlet to escape from family trouble, even at its darkest moments. Gabriel LaBelle stars as the semi-autobiographical version of Steven Spielberg, Sammy Fabelman, and he is a very solid performer that you could tell just enjoyed every second of being on set. LaBelle’s acting chops are really defined in the comedic scenes when he is experiencing bullying at school or falling in love. It’s a very relatable performance that he excelled at, especially in high-intensity scenes that require a lot from a young actor. Paul Dano portrays the father, Burt Fabelman, in a performance that seems very alien to his usual arsenal. In films like Prisoners, The Batman, and There Will Be Blood, Dano finds himself cast as characters that have experienced some sort of trauma that echo in his performance. Burt Fabelman is a very grounded character that doesn’t require a lot from the actor, yet asks for a lot. And, of course, Paul Dano kills it in his performance. He isn’t the main focus and, frankly, he shouldn’t be. But he compliments Sammy Fabelman and Mitzi Fabelman very well. Speaking of Mitzi Fabelman, Michelle Williams really shines in this film. While, at points, I felt that the character was a bit overwhelming due to the amount of emotion she experiences throughout the film, Michelle Williams did fantastic with what she was given. I am not going to go too in depth with what exactly happens with her character that requires so much emotion because that would be a spoiler, but just be aware that she is an absolute all-star on screen. The performances from other actors like Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, and even David Lynch were a treat to see! They serve the plot well and in the moments where they needed to be dramatic and comedic, they delivered.

The story itself was also excellent and relatable! I have already mentioned how inspiring of a film this is, but hear me out. I believe that it is a gift that someone who is as influential as Steven Spielberg is lifting the curtain about his life in this way. Cinema is a very powerful artform and his influence in the film industry is easily unmatched. So to see a film that is so personal and also bestows so much of his knowledge on screen is something special. The Fabelmans feels like a love letter to cinema and growing up coupled with fantastic cinematography, acting, writing, directing, and much much more. I am purposefully trying to avoid as many spoilers as possible because the trailers don’t say much about the meat of the story, but it is not worth missing out on. The coming-of-age genre is one that seems very overdone nowadays with the same messages. But for some reason, this one feels different.

Despite loving this movie so much, there are still some problems I have with it. For example, there are some parts that still feel like they are ripped straight out of the 80s. Is that a bad thing? I mean, I guess not? But when your school bully characters seem like they are taken from every high school movie made in the late 20th century, a part of me is going to feel like there is a more innovative way to write this type of character instead of falling back onto the same cliché. Though, these bully characters don’t appear very often and, in fact, they have a scene that still sticks out in my mind while writing this a week later. Also, sometimes the melodrama of the film can get a bit tiring after a while. Of course, being called The Fabelmans, this movie really centers a lot on the family. But when the family is constantly experiencing trouble after trouble, I can’t help but feel fatigued after a while. If this is exactly how these events played out in Spielberg’s personal life, then this isn’t something that I can really argue with. But there was a bit too much screaming from everyone in this film. Screaming, in my opinion, needs to be experienced in spurts and be done with nuance. I think whenever Michelle Williams or Paul Dano scream in this film, it is done with detail, purpose, and intent that screaming really was the only way to achieve the emotion of the scene. However, sometimes when Gabriel LaBelle or some of the other supporting characters scream, it feels like they are screaming for the sake of screaming, not for character-building, just to create false emotion. It isn’t always like this of course, but when it gets too much, it simply becomes too much.

To be honest though, those minor things were my only complaints with the film because the rest of it is done with such care and admiration for cinema as a whole. I would recommend this movie a million times over if I could. Will it be for everyone? Definitely not. I have read reviews that say they respect the film, but it isn’t for them, which is totally fine! The runtime is not something to scoff at either. It is a long commitment to sit and watch the film from start to finish with a two and a half hour long runtime. But, for those who appreciate filmmaking as a whole will take away a lot from this movie. People who love Oscar-worthy performances will thoroughly enjoy this movie. But, most importantly, people who love Steven Spielberg will adore this movie. If you have the chance while filling out college applications or studying for midterm exams, take a night to go see The Fabelmans. It certainly is a thrill to watch from start to finish.