Capture every moment.
The Fabelmans is a 2022 drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner, produced by Amblin Entertainment and Reliance Entertainment, and distributed by Universal Pictures. The film is inspired by Steven Spielberg's childhood. It stars Gabriel LaBelle and Michelle Williams.
"Everything happens for a reason." - Mitzi Schildkraut-Fabelman
Young Sammy Fabelman's life is forever changed after he sees The Greatest Show on Earth in the movie theater when he is seven. Sammy goes on to profess a love of film while also having to deal with the hardships of growing up and a difficult family life.
Gabriel LaBelle / Screenplay / Character Study / A Personal Story / Michelle Williams / Mitzi / Balancing Family and Film / Messy / Tone / Length
The best things about The Fabelmans is Sammy Fabelman himself, Gabriel LaBelle.
The twenty-year-old lead actor hasn't really helmed a major film before, but from his performance here, you'd think he has. A character study coming-of-age story needs a strong actor at the helm, because there's a lot of different emotions with those two genres. LaBelle manages to outshine every actor on screen. Paul Dano, Michelle Williams, and Seth Rogen are all in this movie. LaBelle's screen presence matches Judd Hirsch when he makes an appearance. He was fantastic. He was charming and fun, but was able to display pain and sadness when he needed to. I hope he breaks out after this role. He was great.
The screenplay was also pretty good. I have my problems with the story and some of the directions The Fabelmans went, but Tony Kushner and Steven Spielberg always craft compelling screenplays with great, cracking dialogue, and The Fabelmans is no exception. There are a ton of scenes in here that are written with this beautiful, rhythmic flow to them. It made the film easier to digest, and that means a lot, because this film can get very heavy at times.
Character studies are difficult movies to make. A character study is when you spend almost the whole film with one character and get it entirely from his point of view. For example, Joker is a character study, albeit much different. The Fabelmans is essentially a real-life character study, and there's something to that. It allows you to get an inside peek at what Steven Spielberg's childhood was like and how he reacted to all of it, and it's very interesting.
This film is also clearly very personal. Steven Spielberg is my favorite director of all time. Part of that is his ability to tell all kinds of stories with the same quality. He can do epic war dramas. He can do horror films about sharks. He can do sci-fi movies about aliens or dinosaurs. Here, he tells a totally different kind of story. His story. This is his childhood, and you feel the passion and the love that he pours into this film. And that made it resonant with me on a different level than I expected.
Unfortunately, The Fabelmans is not one of Spielberg's best films.
The biggest problem here was Michelle Williams and her character. I'll start with her performance. She is a great actress. She has been in a lot of movies and consistently proved her ability to act. Here, she goes too extreme with her acting. She overacts. When she's sad, she's sappy. When she's happy, she's giddy. It's too much. Her character spends a lot of the movie being sad, and it almost gets to a point where it feels like she's going crazy because Williams goes so far with the depression and somberness. And beyond all of the overacting, I just found her to be annoying. She cries a lot in this movie, and every time she does, it sounds like a loud, awful wailing. I couldn't stand it.
That problem originates from the character she was given: Mitzi Schildkraut-Fabelman, the mother of Sammy Fabelman and a stand-in for Steven Spielberg's mother. She is the centerpiece of the film. And she is awful. You HATE her. She does so many horrible things...yet the movie tries to present her as a likable character. She's not a good mother. She's not a good wife. She's not really a good person and she seems a little bit insane, but the movie acts like you are supposed to root for her and like her. And you don't. At all. And that's such a problem because she's so vital to the plot.
The movie also has two main storylines: the first involves Sammy's growing love of film and the second involves all of his family troubles. The first ten minutes of The Fabelmans sets up Sammy's love of film. And it seems like that's what the movie is going to be. But, for the next hour and a half, it's much more focused on his family. And then, in the last twenty-five minutes, it reverts back to being about his love of film. It makes the film extremely uneven in the storytelling and in the tone, because the film and family aspects are very different and are not blended well together at all.
And, because of all of that, The Fabelmans is an extremely messy movie. Life is messy. So it can be hard to translate life into a movie. And that's what Spielberg tries to do. He tries to attack this film from all sides so that you get family, film, school...all of that. But none of those really connect. It's like grabbing pieces from a bunch of different puzzles and trying to fit them together. They just don't. And when you include all of those pieces, you have a complete mess. And that's what The Fabelmans is.
Just as messy as the story is the tone. This movie is extremely sad. It's a downer. It's not the type of sad that will make you cry. It's the type of sad that just leaves you unhappy. I know this sounds weird, but I'd say it's sad, not emotional. However, there are parts of the film that aren't sad at all. There's a part about a third of the way through the movie where the film takes a sad turn, and then immediately after, they introduce this character called Uncle Boris, who is almost comedic. It's a very weird tonal shift after this incredibly sad event, and there were a ton of examples like that throughout the film.
Finally, this movie is way too long. It clocks in at about two and a half hours, and it just didn't need to be that long. It feels like Spielberg didn't want to cut anything from this movie because it's so personal to him, but that causes the movie to become messy and bloated. If you wear a watch into this film, you will be checking it. It's a long movie that's heavy, which makes it feel even longer.
Final Thoughts and Score
The Fabelmans has elements of a great film, but the product as a whole struggles to come together, resulting in a messy, sad film that is not very good. I know a lot of people are loving this one. I did not.
I will go Sour here. Age range is 9+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good)
Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)
Fun Factor: 5.5/10
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, language, suggestive content, thematic elements
Released on November 28, 2022
2 hours and 31 minutes
Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy Fabelman
Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord as Young Sammy Fabelman
Michelle Williams as Mitzi Schildkraut-Fabelman
Paul Dano as Burt Fabelman
Seth Rogen as Benny Loewy
Judd Hirsch as Boris Schildkraut
Sam Rechner as Logan Hall
Oakes Fegley as Chad Thomas
Chloe East as Monica Sherwood
Julia Butters as Reggie Fabelman
Birdie Borria as Young Reggie Fabelman
Keeley Karsten as Natalie Fabelman
Alina Brace as Young Natalie Fabelman
Jeannie Berlin as Haddash Fabelman
Sophia Kopera as Lisa Fabelman
Isabelle Kusman as Claudia Denning