Spielberg’s polished, but rather underwhelming workmanlike by-the-numbers tale of his formative years as a child and teenager chronicles the tension between family disputes and his passion for filmmaking.
Dir. Steven Spielberg
2022 | USA | Drama | 151 min | 1.85:1 | English
PG13 (passed clean) for some strong language, thematic elements, brief violence and drug use.
Cast: Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch
Plot: Growing up in post-World War II era Arizona, young Sammy Fabelman aspires to become a filmmaker as he reaches adolescence, but soon discovers a shattering family secret and explores how the power of films can help him see the truth.
Awards: Nom. for 7 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Original Score
Distributor: United International Pictures
Subject Matter: Moderate – Family; Coming-of-Age; Filmmaking
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: In Theatres – Projector X: Picturehouse
The Fabelmans suffers from the exact syndrome as the director’s earlier film, Catch Me If You Can (2002). Both films are well-made as you would expect from Steven Spielberg and have been well-received by audiences and critics alike. However, they start really well but taper off after a while.
The Fabelmans may be Spielberg’s most personal work, chronicling his formative years as a child discovering his passion for filmmaking, and as a teenager grappling with family, school and boy-girl relationship issues. But to put it less charitably, it is Spielberg producing a coming-of-age movie by giving us a coming-of-age movie—nothing less, and certainly, nothing more.
It should appeal to general audiences hoping for something nostalgically familiar (the movie spans the ‘50s and ‘60s) as Sammy (Spielberg’s alter ego) becomes intrigued by the magic of movies after seeing The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) in the cinema with his parents.
“They tell me you want to become a picture maker. What do you know about art, kid?”
Much of The Fabelmans is workmanlike, and perhaps a tad too long. There are compelling stretches though, such as the wordless sequence where Sammy projects a ‘specially edited’ film for his mother (Michelle Williams in a performance that calls too much attention to itself), to the non-diegetic music of Bach’s emotional ‘Concerto in D Minor, BWV 974 – II. Adagio’.
Speaking of music, there is little in the way of John Williams (his first for Spielberg since 2017’s The Post) to really excite or touch the heartstrings. I’m quite surprised that Spielberg used him more sparingly this time.
The Fabelmans should do well as one of the stronger contenders in the Oscar race, but this is a rather underwhelming addition to his filmography. Look out for David Lynch in a cameo as John Ford in a scene that will tickle you. The less said about the segment featuring a religious girl trying to woo Sammy the better—Spielberg has never directed a more cringe-worthy scene.
What a refreshing take amidst the fawning. I could not agree with you more.
It’s a tough genre, though, so kudos to Spielberg for taking it on.
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It could still win Best Picture Oscar… this year’s quite unpredictable!