The Fabelmans – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 31 minutes, Director – Steven Spielberg

Teenager Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) lives his life through what his camera observes, finding escape from his divided family life through filmmaking.

In a short pre-film message Steven Spielberg makes certain that “this is my most personal film”. A semi-autobiographical depiction of his own childhood and the formative years which led to his passion for filmmaking his experiences are re-witnessed by Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle). A teenager who, after seeing The Greatest Show On Earth as a child (Mateo Zoryan), becomes dedicated to capturing the world through the various camera lenses he holds throughout the film. Whether it be a fictional tale, brought to life with his own interesting homemade styles and techniques, or documenting his family life every bit of editing kit, type of film and camera becomes instant knowledge and fascination to him.

However, after being told by his Uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch – in a brief yet undeniably well-performed six or seven minutes on-screen) he’s told that being split between family and art will tear him apart. It’s mentioned by his mother, Mitski (Michelle Williams) that in the Fabelmans “it’s the scientists versus the artists”. It certainly seems that way with her encouraging her son’s pursuits while her husband (a very held back Paul Dano) is more wary about his son building up experience in engineering and building up skills in algebra just in case things don’t quite take off. As Sammy films more, observing the various relationships within his family – including three sisters and dad’s friend and business partner ‘uncle’ Benny (Seth Rogen) – he begins to notice a number of truths of life within his escape.

Alongside co-writer Tony Kushner you can see the personal fingerprints within the fond memories that construct the loose narrative developments and details throughout the film. Working for both better and less better. Certainly it helps to push certain points and bring a naturalistic sense to them, and even creates a mild, but not too overpowering, feeling of wistfulness that doesn’t dive into trippy, exclusionary nostalgia. However, occasionally this does mean that some scenes feel a bit drawn out with the amount of personal details packed into them – although at two-and-a-half hours long the film as a whole moves along rather well.

Much of this is effectively tracked by LaBelle who proves an engaging lead capturing the wonderment and creativity of his character whilst also managing to get across the cogs whirring in his mind when both constructing ideas and trying to register his family perhaps falling apart in front of him. It’s the core of the film as his skills and passions begin to twist and develop around this. Learning more and more that the camera doesn’t lie and understanding how to cope with this. There are a number of interesting developments in terms of this theme as the family moves around the country for Dano’s increasing tech career. In many ways, next to the general idea of family and what the titular group go through over the course of the film, it’s a core focus highlighting the imagination and fascination of Sammy.

Perhaps this also explains why when we see more of the central figure at school in the later stages of the piece things don’t quite have the same effect. While they still work and have enough to interest and engage they do feel for a fair proportion of the time as if they deviate away from the rest of what has come beforehand. Slightly leaning away from that key point of family which is so integral to the film and the memories which are on display to focus more on Sammy suffering anti-Semitic bullying, and starting to date. Yet, there’s still plenty to enjoy with what’s present, including the occasional patches of light humour which crop up and help to further connect you to the naturalistic elements that are on display; all with that Spielberg tint, although in slightly different style to some of his more recent work. All building up to a final few minutes which may prove to be one of the highlights of the year.

While it might sometimes draw things out with the style of fond memories this also helps to engage the viewer within the interesting and well-performed family dramas of The Fabelmans. All contributing to the effectively developing points of a developing filmmaker exploring the various impacts and revelations of his passion.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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