Review by Cole Groth
“Directed by Steven Spielberg” automatically elevates any film’s prestige. It’s a statement that anyone who enjoys movies will recognize and hold to a high standard. How does one of the greatest directors create a film about his life? The Fabelmans is the answer. Spielberg’s latest is the (literal) story of a lifetime. It’s a film that celebrates the art of movie-making and will move audiences of all kinds when it releases.
The opening introduces us to the Fabelmans, a beautifully dysfunctional family loosely based on Spielberg’s childhood. A young Samuel “Sammy” Fabelman (Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord) is taken to see his first-ever movie, which ignites a spark in his life that, unbeknownst to him, he will follow forever. Burt (Paul Dano) is his strict yet endearing father, and Mitzi (Michelle Williams) is his artistic and emotional mother. After receiving a train model for Hanukkah and subsequently crashing it, he gets a camera and records the crash with it. An older Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle) finds happiness in making short films with his family, including sisters Reggie (Julia Butters), Natalie (Keeley Karsten), and Lisa (Sophia Kopera).
The Fabelmans are perfectly written by Spielberg and Tony Kushner as a family unit to replicate many people’s experiences with their families. Each argument and emotional moment shared between the family feels realistic, which makes the audience feel more involved in the story that follows. Standing at an extraordinary 151 minutes long, we’re given ample time to learn how every character works. This long runtime allows for great scenes, such as when Boris (Judd Hirsch), Sammy’s great uncle, arrives for a night and explains how Sammy will have to balance his life as an artist and a family member. The script’s most potent moments lie in the relationship between Sammy and Mitzi. This mother-son duo has to continually reconcile their differences as they grow through life, just like typical families do. It’s hard not to get emotional at least once throughout this because of how relatable it can be. Whether you’re somebody who’s yearned to be a filmmaker, a person with a strained familial relationship, or if you’ve always dreamed of something bigger than yourself, you’ll find something that resonates with you.
Spielberg’s story is not quite as grand of a scale as the trailers would have you believe, with the family drama being one of the most dominating elements of the movie. Fortunately, the drama is incredible. Once Sammy moves to a new high school, he has to confront the effect of his Jewishness on how the world views him. Many of his classmates are grossly antisemitic, a theme that proves to be remarkably prescient. In contrast to the religious drama, as far as Spielberg’s movies go, this is one of his funniest films yet. After getting beat up one day, Sammy meets Monica (Chloe East), his love interest with whom he has his first kiss in an unbelievably funny scene. Since the film occasionally gets depressing, Spielberg and Kushner smartly work in little quips to keep the tone feeling fresh.
The performances from many of the cast members are standouts and will undoubtedly fall onto the radar of voters for this year’s Oscars. Michelle Williams is a clear frontrunner for Best Actress, which makes sense after her breathless performance as Mitzi. Her tenderness shines through each scene, and she is one of the most complex characters in Spielberg’s filmography. Gabriel LaBelle is perfect as Sammy. He’s a caring presence who effortlessly portrays the complexities of growing up and what it’s like to have a passion. Paul Dano is incredible as a stern, tough-loving father who represents the core values of an older America. Seth Rogen gives his most outstanding performance yet as Bennie, a family friend who’s more complicated than he appears. Julia Butters is excellent as Sammy’s little sister, and I hope to see her in more stuff soon. The rest of the cast is directed to deliver their best performances thanks to the excellent script and director.
Technically, The Fabelmans is excellent. Janusz Kamiński’s cinematography emphasizes the magic of movie-making and moves us through multiple modes of film to achieve the emotional goals of Spielberg’s story. While the runtime is just over two and a half hours, it’s hard to notice that it’s that long. However, there are moments where the pacing is slightly off as if there was just one more cut that needed to be made to make this perfect. John Williams’s score is impressive, but it’s simply not in enough of the film to be thoroughly impactful. These minor issues don’t distract from the experience as a whole but keep the movie from being perfect.
2022 has been a great year for film, and while The Fabelmans might not be the definitive best of the year, it’s hard to argue that this is anything less than a masterpiece. It’s a primarily personal movie that works on every level. It’s an emotionally moving and technically stellar work of art that could have been director than none other than one of the greatest directors ever. Make no doubt about Steven Spielberg: he’s still able to make an enormously entertaining epic about anything. You can look forward to this receiving many nominations at this year’s Oscars, and it undeniably deserves most of them.
The Fabelmans releases exclusively in theaters on November 23rd.