The Fabelmans Review

Friday 3 February 2023

Plot: Growing up in post-World War II era Arizona, young Sammy Fabelman aspires to become a filmmaker as he reaches adolescence, but soon discovers a shattering family secret and explores how the power of films can help him see the truth.

Film: The Fabelmans

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writers: Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner

Starring: Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogan

The film quite literally follows successful tech wizard Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano) as his job takes him across the country, while wife Mitzi (Michelle Williams) follows him dutifully along with their four children. When the Fabelmans must move to Arizona, Mitzi convinces Burt to take best friend and protegee Bennie, (Seth Rogen) which sparks a big change in how we view the seemingly happy family dynamic. Tensions really rise when Burt decides his next career move will take the family to California and the truth comes out.  

But this is a film about filmmaking, isn’t it? Yes and no. Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) shows a keen interest in film from a young age after watching his first picture and emerging from it determined he wants to be a director. During the films indulgent runtime, Sammy makes home movies with his siblings, larger scale projects with his scout troop and reaches a point where he’s making ‘Escape To Knowhere’, which Spielberg fans will likely recognise as one of his earliest projects. After this however the light is quickly returned to Sammy’s turbulent family life, the result of which is his dwindling passion for filming entirely. 

By the time the Fabelmans have moved to California, Sammy has lost his spark and so has the film, this is where the two-and-a-half-hour runtime really starts to feel unnecessary. I think the remaining story required a little more investment from the audience than I was willing to give and for me, that was largely down to the absence of Mitzi, who at this point has returned to Arizona, as she had been the star of the show for the first two thirds of the film. By the end of the film, Sammy has picked up his camera again and you can see the fires of passion reignited, so the last twenty minutes satisfy just enough that I didn’t leave the cinema feeling like I had wasted my time. This was not the love letter to film, or even Spielberg’s family, that I was expecting but instead the story of a surprisingly normal childhood experience that led to an extraordinary career, and I think that’s beautiful in itself. 


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