Steven Spielberg, arguably the greatest filmmaker of all time, takes control of his narrative by telling a fictionalised version of his early years. The Fabelmans takes us from the initial spark that ignited Spielberg’s directing passion, through his parents’ divorce, and ending at his beginnings in Hollywood. Matthew Fogarty reviews.
Since his debut into the public consciousness in 1975 with Jaws, Spielberg has been entertaining the masses with jaw-dropping spectacle and suspense. Yet with his latest endeavour, he seeks to tell his most intimate story ever. He beautifully brings his family to life, in a script written by himself and Tony Kushner, and paints a portrait of a Jewish family’s struggles during the 50s and 60s.
Spielberg is not shy to show the dark side of his past. His discovery of his mother’s adultery and the subsequent divorce of his parents are key emotional touchstones of the film. The film celebrates his Jewish heritage, while shining a spotlight on the antisemitism he experienced when moving to California. This exploration of Spielberg’s relationship to his culture, and people’s reaction to it, play as both a serious commentary of America’s relation to its Jewish population, and provide moments of levity when contrasted with his protagonist’s very Christian girlfriend.
There is a great nuance to her character
Michelle Williams, recently Oscar-nominated for her role in the film, steals the show as the protagonist’s mother, a woman who both adores her kids, but struggles with her mental health and her feelings for her husband’s best friend. While some accuse her performance as being over the top, I feel there is great nuance to her character and her motherly presence throughout the film brings great energy and warmth. Paul Dano supports her performance with delicacy, and provides a strong backbone for the family. I was unconvinced by Seth Rogan’s inclusion as Dano’s best friend and William’s secret lover, but he served his purpose in his limited scenes.
87-year-old acting veteran Judd Hirsch’s performance earned him an Oscar nomination despite his extremely limited screen time. His motivational speech to the lead character provides a bed rock for the thematic struggle of the picture, the fight between pursing your passions and supporting your family.
Whenever the pair were on screen, I felt the film worked best
The film’s main focus rests on newcomer Gabriel LaBelle. Playing Sammy Fabelman, this story’s fictional version of Spielberg, LaBelle captivates the screen, and brings a vulnerability to the lead role that carries the audience through the film. I particularly felt the chemistry between LaBelle and Williams; whenever the pair were on screen, I felt the film worked best. The recreation of Spielberg’s early homemade films provided great opportunity for LaBelle to show his range, and I believe he has a strong career ahead of him.
I was unconvinced by the resolution to the protagonist’s relationship with his antisemitic bullies. I feel Spielberg let these characters off the hook for their actions, though I did appreciate seeing film being used as a way to resolve issues. Overall, Spielberg’s ode to cinema is heart-warming and elegant, filled with energy and emotion. The film ends on such a high note, that it is hard to leave this experience without a smile on your face, and an appreciation for filmmaking at its finest.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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