Review: The Fabelmans
Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle as a teen, Mateo Zoryan as a young child) is growing up in post WWII America and discovers his love for making movies. His father (Paul Dano) thinks it's a hobby, but is proud of what he does regardless. His mother (Michelle Williams) encourages him, but when he discovers a family secrets involving her, it changes not only his, but his family's trajectory for good.
This is one of those films where I was afraid of the buzz. I don't have the best luck with director's passion projects about their families. The widely popular Roma and Stories We Tell were good examples of well loved films that I just did not vibe with, and I didn't want to add The Fabelmans to that list. And the 2 and a half run time did not help. Luckily, despite some flaws, there's a lot to love about The Fabelmans.
Obviously Stephen Spielberg knows his way around a camera. It's shot beautifully. Even the scenes where Sammy is filming for the first time are pristine. It's easy to get lost in Sammy's worlds as he moves place to place with his family.
All the child actors are great, Gabriel LaBelle is takes on a huge task of being Spielberg's avatar and he does a great job. If you've been reading here for some time you already know my Paul Dano bias so it will come to no surprise that I think he's the best actor in this movie. Burt Fabelman is a hard worker, and yes he's the technical genius who doesn't quite see filmmaking is a viable job, but he always looks at Sammy's finished product in awe. Michelle Williams' Mitzi on the other hand, sees Sammy's potential and despite her aloofness, we're meant to love her as Sammy's #1 ally in the arts, and that's where I got stuck.
I hate Michelle Williams' performance in this film. Like, truly hate it. She's such a good actress and I don't know if Spielberg got caught up in his own nostalgia or if this is how he chooses to reflect on his narcissist mother but she's playing Mitzi like she's in an over the top 40's comedy while everyone else is nestled in realism. It's so jarring. Williams' presence in The Fabelmans is overwhelming and that's a credit to her as an actress, but I found the performance distracting in the worst way.
This film could be divided into thirds to coincide with the Fabelmans' moves. New Jersey, Arizona, California. California is definitely the weakest part, but with the final 15 minutes or so comes a pitch perfect cameo and one of Dano's best scenes. That made up for any shortcomings the film had.
The run time is hefty and perhaps Williams' performance would grate you as much as it did me, but it's fun getting into the mind of Spielberg and seeing what shaped him as a filmmaker.