THE FABELMANS is directed by Stephen Spielberg. It stars Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, and Judd Hirsch. The film is loosely based on Spielberg’s youth.
When young Sammy Fabelman sees his first movie, his life is forever changed, and the young man becomes obsessed with filming and directing. Well into his teen years, filmmaking remains a hobby, even as it begins to interfere in his family life and social experiences. As the years pass, Sammy strives to turn his craft into a job, well into his high school years and postsecondary years, never losing sight of his goals and dreams.
Stephen Spielberg is one of the greatest filmmakers who has ever lived. No fan of film can argue with that. He’s an incredible talent with a body of work spanning countless genres. Upon hearing his newest film would be one based on his youth, childhood, and discovery of film, I knew it was one I absolutely had to see. THE FABELMANS is a beautiful, well-told film about the magic of the movies and a young man’s discovery of film. While it does lose its footing in its second half with some conventional melodrama that doesn’t do the narrative any favors, the strengths outweigh the weaknesses.
Some of the best movies ever made are movies about the movies. THE FABELMANS certainly fits into that category. Watching young Sammy see films like THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH as a boy and THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE as a teen is definitely reminiscent of all our discoveries of the greatness of cinema. Scenes of Sammy trying to reproduce this at home and around town with minimal equipment and budget and showing it off to audiences that include his Boy Scout troop are equal parts hilarious, dramatic, and entertaining. When his Boy Scout audiences stood up to cheer loudly for these moments, I had to restrain myself not to do the same to avoid disturbing other theater patrons.
Casting for the film is superb, including Paul Dano and Michelle Williams as Sammy’s parents, Seth Rogan as his father’s business partner, and a criminally underused Judd Hirsch as an estranged relative who once was in silent films. There’s a great drama and chemistry among everyone in the movie; no one knows and understands family dynamics better than Mr. Spielberg. This combined with the gorgeous production design, including vintage cars and film equipment, speaks for itself. THE FABELMANS looks like a work of art throughout. For a movie that’s largely one man’s love letter to film, that’s the highest praise I can imagine.
The film is top-notch, but is unfortunately weighed down by an excessively long running time. Subplots regarding Sammy’s first love and bullying issues at school feel tertiary at best, as do many other elements that could’ve been excised. The film seems to want to address the family’s Jewish heritage, but none of this feels fully realized or effective. It’s a solid movie, but would’ve been better and more effective with some “trimming of the fat.” It needed to be two hours long; not two-and-a-half hours.
Despite its excess, THE FABELMANS is another powerful and deeply personal film from Stephen Spielberg, one of film’s greatest talents ever. Is there anything this man can’t do on the big screen? The good outweighs the bad by a considerable margin; it’s a magnificent “movie about the movies.” No lover of film will be able to resist THE FABELMANS! Highly recommended.