Best New Movies

The Fabelmans – Film Review

The Fabelmans – Film Review
by Brian Merriman

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Steven Spielberg, Tony Kushner
Producers: Steven Spielberg, Tony Kushner, Kristie Macosko Krieger
Music by John Williams
Cinematography: Janusz Kamiński
Starring: Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch

When you combine the extraordinary talents of Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner (the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning writer of Angels in America), you are justified in expecting something special. ‘The Fabelmans’ is a lovely story, beautifully told.

Based on Speilberg’s own life, it charts the emergence of a career in film-making by a young boy growing up in a 1960s Jewish family with a technically gifted father (Paul Dano), and an artistic mother (Michelle Williams). We meet the Fabelmans at Hannukah, where two gloriously played Grandmothers, Robin Bartlett and the exceptional Jennie Berlin add to the rich tapestry of supporting roles, and as always with Speilberg, he knows how to cast great child actors and help them shine.

It is a ‘coming of age’ film, but it is not obsessed with the usual emerging sexuality and resultant angst. Instead, it reflects the coming of age of their emotions, values, decisions and discovery that their parents are flawed survivors too. These Fabelman children get to have conversations and make the decisions that Spielberg’s own youth shied away from. It is that quest to complete the story and to rectify missed opportunities that drives the screenplay, with the emerging talent of Gabrielle LaBelle as a multi-faceted ‘Sam’. It’s a fine performance that seamlessly connects each episode into the complete story.

‘The Fabelmans’ is told episodically through their chronological locations around the US from coast to coast, eventually delivering Sam to the centre of the film industry in California. There are many opportunities for an earlier ending, but just when you think the story is reconciled, there is more – a lot more.

The early home movie sequences about how the child turned into a filmmaker, his creativity for special effects and his early editing are magical. Sam’s inspiring leadership of the Scout troupe and their exuberance in front of the camera is joyous. The attention to detail in the colour-rich setting is excellent and really does recreate the sense of period.

The treatment of the central parent relationship, in two beautifully understated but resonating portrayals by Williams and Dano, is captured from Sam’s growing perspective and understanding. He remedies things now in the story which the young Spielberg didn’t back then. That’s the driving force behind this film – an opportunity to do things better. It is honest and fair to all the characters in circumstances that impact on so many. It’s a tough life lesson for any young man.

The exploration of adolescence and social norms is a strong and striking underscore, not sexualised but acknowledging the conditioning of kids to believe and bully, the role of Jesus, antisemitism, and the gamut of expression of adolescent lack of confidence.

Sam accidentally films things which result in hard revelations about the true meaning of adult love, loyalty and relationships. As he copes with this, he advances to capture this power to reveal in the ‘Ditch Day 1964’ movie sequence, where he not only truly discovers but masters the power of film to challenge and reveal.  His openness to beauty in all people is powerfully uninhibited for a boy raised in the 1960s – he sees beyond and underneath it, especially when dealing with the strong High School personalities which dominate him, like Sam Reichner’s as Logan Hall and Oakes Fegley as Chad Thomas. There are many wonderful, pointed comedy moments, delivered frequently by a stellar cast of supporting roles.

In ‘The Fabelmans’, Spielberg and Kushner combine their skills in using film to expose truth, through so many stories, some true, some that never had the opportunity to be true, but all are worth telling. Add to this John Williams melodic work and a rich score and you have one of the best 151 minutes you are likely to spend in a cinema this year.

Categories: Best New Movies, Header, Movie Review, Movies

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