The Fabelmans Review
PLOT: Young Sammy Fabelman dreams of becoming a director and is encouraged by his loving mother (Michelle Williams). At the same time, his aloof father (Paul Dano) wishes he was pursuing something more serious.
REVIEW: The Fabelmans will forever stand as one of director Steven Spielberg's most personal films. While telling a story about a fictional family, Spielberg has been open about how the film is based on his upbringing with Sammy Fabelman, who he was as a young man. The delicate but compelling film gives us perhaps the most insightful glimpse we've had into Spielberg's development as a director, while also revealing how much his relationship with his parents has influenced his work.
The film begins with young Sammy going to the cinema for the first time The greatest show in the world with his parents Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and Burt (Paul Dano). The movies famous train wreck reignites his love of movies, with Sammy anxious to recreate the moment with his expensive model trains, and we see his mother encouraging his early work. His father, while affectionate, is a slightly more distant character. One of the early computer geniuses, Bert's work often uproots the family, taking them from New Jersey through an idyllic time in Phoenix and then to a more emotionally strained move to a very anti-Semitic part of California.
Williams and Dano are exceptional here. Mitzi is a frustrated artist herself, a budding concert pianist who gave up her craft when she became pregnant. She is affectionate but also unstable, prone to manic episodes and eccentric bouts of spontaneity. She has a lot of passion but no outlet for it, while his father is more practical and an amazing genius whose work leaves less room for his family.
Williams is already being swarmed for a potential Oscar nomination for Best Actress this year, and she certainly counts as one of her finest roles. She's great as Mitzi, who balances her responsibilities as a mother with her own needs, including feelings for a family friend, Seth Rogen's Benny, which she finds difficult to reconcile. Williams and Rogen previously worked together on Sarah Polley's underrated film Take this waltz, and their easy chemistry shows us why Mitzi might pine for someone like Benny. He's not a genius like Bert, but he's kind and funny, and Rogen is extremely likable in the role.
acting, The Fabelmans is impeccable, with Gabriel LaBelle a real find as a teenage Sammy who sharply witsly takes on anti-Semitic bullying, which earns him a girlfriend (Chloe East - who's quite funny as the neighborhood girl who has an erotic fixation on Jesus Christ has) , and sheer talent. The film has two bravura cameos that are almost mini-movies and were so good that the TIFF audience responded with massive applause at the end of each sequence.
One involves the great Judd Hirsch as a long-estranged uncle. Like Sammy and his mother, he is a frustrated artist and he immediately sees through the young man and teaches him a powerful lesson while the two sit Shiva for a deceased relative. Hirsch appears to be a surefire Oscar contender for his role, and it's a brilliant Chef's Kiss career ending for this 87-year-old actor. The second cameo is what most reviews spoil, but I can't bring myself to give it away. It's a beloved cult figure that you wouldn't associate with Spielberg, but it's a crowd-pleaser that will get movie fans talking.
The Fabelmans is a departure from Spielberg in some ways, as he opts for a laid-back, episodic feel that feels unusual given its aesthetic. Some might complain that the 150-minute film is slow, but while it's intentionally fast-paced, it's never boring, and the on-screen imagery is captivating. John Williams contributes a sparse score, with much of the film being composed by Mitzi's piano playing. Notably, this is also one of Spielberg's most playful films, in which he enjoys re-enacting the short films he made with his friends in Phoenix. There are even a handful of moments where Spielberg himself winks at audiences through his craft, acknowledging the fact that what we see on screen made him the artist he is today. Indeed, for those of us who consider Spielberg's films to be an essential part of our love of cinema (and I'll bet that is the case for literally everyone reading this), this is an invaluable insight into the making of one of the greatest be artists of our time.
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