The Fabelmans (2022)

Quick(ish) Reviews/Favorite Films

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Written by Steven Spielberg & Tony Kushner

Starring Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Gabriel LaBelle, Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord, Jeanie Berlin, David Lynch, & Judd Hirsch

Release Date: November 11, 2022

Running Time: 2hr 31min

Rating: PG13

The chronicles of the early life of Samuel “Sammy” Fabelman (Francis-DeFord at age 7, LaBelle from teen to young adult), who aspires to become a filmmaker, after being taken to see Cecil B. DeMill’s The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), by his parents Mitzi (Williams) and Burt (Dano). Burt sees it as a hobby, Mitzi knows it means so much more to Sammy than that. As he gets older, Sammy begins to see that both his parents are flawed humans who make mistakes, often using filmmaking as a means of escape.

The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2022, where it won the People’s Choice Award, was given a limited theatrical release in the United States on November 11, 2022, and expanded worldwide on November 23, 2022, by Universal Pictures. The film received widespread critical acclaim for the performances of the cast, Spielberg’s direction, the screenplay, cinematography, and John Williams’ musical score. It was named one of the top ten films of 2022 by the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute, being the second consecutive film directed by Spielberg to receive these honors after West Side Story. However, The Fabelmans was a box-office bomb, grossing $8.7 million on a $40 million budget, making it the lowest-grossing performance for a Spielberg film. It has received five nominations at the 80th Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director for Spielberg, and eleven nominations at the 28th Critics’ Choice Awards, including Best Picture.

This should’ve been a hit! Given how this only cost around $40 million to make, and it’s made by the most successful filmmaker of all time [This is not hyperbole. Look up the stats of Spielberg’s box office successes and by that he is without question the most commercially successful filmmaker of all time.] Sure, I get that at the time of release this movie would be competing with blockbusters like Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, but even so. This is a damn good picture that deserved to be a hit.

Watching this in a theater I am reminded of the story of late film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert seeing the Coen Brothers masterpiece Fargo (1996), with Siskel whispering to Ebert “This is why we love movies.” Whether The Fabelmans is on par with Fargo I will not go into, art is subjective and everyone has their opinions. That doesn’t take away from this feeling I got from watching this movie.

Even if you didn’t know this was inspired by Spielberg’s own life, it still has that human emotion that he’s been able to tap into throughout his long career, he hasn’t lost his touch. He knows exactly how to move the camera at the right moment, and even long static shots have so much energy to them. The pacing doesn’t make this feel like 2.5 hour long movie, something not every filmmaker can pull off. Knowing it’s based on moments in his young life I feel does enhance the experience. I also love seeing old school filmmaking techniques, such as hand cutting and splicing film strips together. They even used actual 8mm and 16mm cameras for the films Sammy makes.

The other masters at work here are frequent Spielberg collaborators: cinematographer Janusz Kamiński (his 20th collaboration), editor Michael Kahn (his 31st collaboration) and composer John Williams (his 29th collaboration). All these guys have worked so well with him over the years, with Williams having the longest partnership. The man has given us some of the most iconic scores ever. Since he’s 90 (as of the writing of this review), and planning on retiring, it’s safe to say this will be their last collaboration, and it’s a terrific sendoff. Kamiński really knows how to wrk with those shadows, nearly every frame could be put up on a wall.

The entire cast is top notch. Williams and Dano are believable as a married couple who seem to care about each other, but they just don’t blend well together. It’s also impressive the subtle ways they age both actors (Williams is 42 and Dano is 38) as we span a decade. Rogen gets to show his dramatic skills, Judd Hirsch and David Lynch steal the brief scenes they’re in, and it’s all anchored well by young LaBelle.

Seriously, see this movie when you get a chance, it’s way too good to pass on.

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