‘The Fabelmans’ Review

Wherein Steven Spielberg jumps up his own ass

Dedicated moviegoers could likely pick a Spielberg film out of a lineup with very little information. Sure, sure—he’s legendary and has helmed some sweet movies and all that, but there’s no denying he’s grown fond of certain devices, certain styles and editing techniques, a high level of schmaltz. Spielberg is a sentimental guy with a whole lot of feelings, and that has never been clearer than in his new semi-autobiographical work, The Fabelmans.

In the Schindler’s List director’s newest, we follow young Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle), a kid who has fallen in love with the movies after viewing The Greatest Show on Earth and will stop at nothing to become a filmmaker. It might have something to do with the fear of death, it might have something to do with the quest for truth—it might have something to do with some compulsive need to put however many inches of film between himself and the rest of the world. Whatever his reasons, Sammy’s folks nurture his budding obsession, even if his dad (Paul Dano) won’t stop calling it a hobby. Sammy’s mom (Michelle Williams), meanwhile—an artist type/pianist—seems to be grappling with some form of bipolar disorder, and though she fosters his cinematic obsessions in myriad ways, she can’t ever quite become the parent he needs; his sisters twist in the wind, only coming up for air as plot devices and emotional prompts.

While satisfying in its premise that some folks just plain need to express themselves, The Fabelmans stumbles in its humanist/artistic messaging. Spielberg shoots a beautiful film, true, but he glosses over conflicts such as infidelity, antisemitism and divorce while spending minute after minute exploring Sammy’s heroic love of the camera. Even worse, just about everyone turns in John Lovitz-level “actiiiiiiiiing!” style performances, particularly Williams, who chews the scenery so hard it’s a wonder any was left. Dano fades into the background against her overt cheese, as does Seth Rogen in a quick role and any number of others whose very existence serves only to make jokes or drive Sammy with lines that prove they just plain don’t get it. LaBelle, though, proves capable and charismatic, and a brief turn from Reservation Dogs actor Lane Factor feels promising. Oh, and Judd Hirsch pops up, too, ever the commanding presence.

And so it goes through jokes that’ll make you chuckle, but not laugh, and scenes that’ll make you think about how times sure have changed—which you’ll then forget. There was a time we could all freak out over a summer Spielberg blockbuster and know we’d at least have fun. The Fabelmans feels more like a wistful old guy in a bar explaining how he wound up there. We can all nod and feel uncomfortable, knowing that he was likely someone once...just maybe not so much anymore.


+Shot well; LaBelle’s performance

-Williams is too much; loathsomely self-indulgent

The Fabelmans

Directed by Spielberg

With LaBella, Williams, Dano and Rogen

Violet Crown, PG-13, 151 min.

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