The Stream: A pretty basic coming-of-age story and Michelle Williams borders on grating
The Big Screen: Spielbergian movie magic filled with emotional moments
The Final Bill: A heartfelt coming-of-age story that isn’t revelatory unless you really care about Steven Spielberg lore– Trip Fontaine
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Steven Spielberg & Tony Kushner
Stars: Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen
Rating: PG-13 for some strong language, thematic elements, brief violence and drug use
Runtime: 2 hours 24 minutes
Production Companies: Amblin Entertainment, Reliance Entertainment, Universal Pictures
Platform: In theaters November 24, 2022
Notable Trailers: Oppenheimer, Knock at the Cabin, A Man Called Otto,
Avatar: The Way of Water
Happy Holidays, Streamers! It’s that time of year when the movie landscape is crowded with holiday family movies and “prestige” pics. Those “prestige” pics are the ones attempting to garner enough attention to be considered for the Academy Awards. While The Fabelmans is a family drama, it definitely falls more into the “prestige” pic category. It’s got everything: Michelle Williams actress-ing; Spielberg Spielberg-ing; coming-of-age tropes including a kid fascinated with a life making art. Oh! and a monkey, I can’t forget the monkey. Here’s how it went for me.
The Fabelmans was directed by Steven Spielberg and co-written by Spielberg and Tony Kushner. There’s a lot of prestigious people in mentioned in that sentence. Anyway, that talent sets the bar pretty high for this movie. The Fabelmans tells a semi-autobiographical story of Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle), a young, Jewish burgeoning film director and his family that happens to be coming apart at the seams. Sammy is introduced to the wonder of movies early and his parents unwittingly cultivate his obsession with motion pictures. Sammy’s mother, Mitzi Fabelman (Michelle Williams), is a flighty, loving and passionate mother who sees herself as an artist and encourages Sammy’s filmmaking efforts. Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano) is methodical and reasonable and sees Sammy’s filmmaking as just a silly hobby. Sammy and his movies capture the highs and lows of his family through the 1950s and 1960s and give the audience insight into the foundation behind the film’s director. Spielbergian hijinks ensue.
That wasn’t a great synopsis, but you get it. It’s a coming-of-age story about a boy who wants to become a movie director and how that affects his family. It takes 2 and a half hours to tell this story? These coming-of-age stories can be a dime a dozen, but this one has the added layer of being told by and about the fictionalized family of one of the greatest living American directors. If you are into the Spielberg thing, then The Fabelmans should be catnip for you. If you don’t really care about Steven Spielberg, then it may not be that interesting without that hook.
Nevertheless, there are great moments throughout The Fabelmans. There are really interesting scenes of teenage Sammy filming and editing his low budget movies. He has some striking ingenuity in directing and adding effects to the early films. The movie tells a compelling story about the difference between capturing truth on film versus living it. There’s a strong moral lesson to be learned from Sammy’s singlemindedness in pursuing his art at all costs. Gabriel LaBelle does an excellent job of anchoring this movie as the main character. As for the parents, Paul Dano is very good as the mild-tempered and evenhanded Burt. Everything he does makes sense even when his family may be falling apart around him. On the other hand, Michelle Williams is all over the place, manic and grating. That may be the character that Spielberg has created, but it’s also the over-the-top, scenery-chewing performance that Michelle Williams is giving.
Ultimately, The Fabelmans is a good coming-of-age movie that hits some basic beats. It is elevated for those who are interested in the Steven Spielberg origin story. There are interesting parts about how the young man becomes a filmmaker, but if you don’t care about that, then it’s just another coming-of-age story to throw on the overflowing pile of them. For Spielberg fans, I say you’ll be happy with a big box of popcorn if you venture to the theater. For everyone else, grab a bowl of popcorn for a matinee if you can’t wait for it to show up on VOD or your favorite streaming channel.