The Fabelmans, all about the Oscar-nominated film

Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated The Fabelmans is a fictionalized retelling of the acclaimed director’s life and his fast-and-hard love affair with cinema. Starring Gabrielle Ravel as a young Sammy, The Fabelmans follows a family of the same name as they journey across the United States and Sammy evolves into a budding filmmaker.

The Fabelman family is complete with Oscar-nominated roles of Paul Dano as Sammy’s father Burt and Michelle Williams as his mother Mitzi. Uncle Bennie is played by Seth Rogen. Yes, Fabelmans are quite Jewish.

Much of The Fabelmans marketing centers around the anti-Semitism that Sammy faces at the hands of his high school mates’ WASPy. Indeed, the film doesn’t spend as much time on this topic as it seems in the trailers.

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In a sense, this makes sense. Spielberg’s films don’t center around the theme of being Jewish (the way Seinfeld does, for instance), so putting strain on The Fabelmans would feel disingenuous. Unfortunately, nothing else is needed to keep the tension taut throughout its critical run time.

I’m not saying the movie is boring. It’s a Spielberg movie, after all. There’s a certain momentum to the plot, thanks in part to the physical movement across the United States (from New Jersey to Arizona to Northern California), which draws attention to the unfolding dynamics.

Sammy is our lens. As the magic of childhood and youthful innocence begins to wear off, the story becomes more real and the stakes rise. However, the characters are still those of very young people, and relationships are only explored and described within that framework.

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The scenes between adults are the ones with the most moving charm. Mitzi and Burt navigate their married life under the watchful eye of their children, but the moment they are free to become adults, we can fully immerse ourselves in the more subtle and complex interpersonal relationships that make the characters interesting.

There is a cinematic brilliance to everything, a cinematic magic that makes even the most desperate moments feel glamorous. Again, it’s not a flaw, but it softens the narrative edges you’d expect the film to have.

Regardless, The Fabelmans is unsurprisingly beautifully shot and written (Spielberg’s longtime collaborator Tony Kushner served as co-writer). A two-and-a-half-hour exploration of the flaws of old America, a glimpse into a true ‘love letter to cinema’ that doesn’t delve into the magic and flaws of old Hollywood.

CRITICISM

Many of the criticisms we left behind (lack of narrative tension, occasionally bland cinematic magic) are hard to level on the film, given what Spielberg is famous for. The triumph of an ordinary person becoming an extraordinary person is what Spielberg is all about. So why would you expect anything else from turning a lens on yourself?

If you like Spielberg’s warmth (now that’s a word, we’ve made it), you’ll enjoy The Fabelmans on a sweet note. If you were expecting to learn something wilder and darker about the nature of humanity, filmmakers, youth and family dynamics in 1950s America, you will fall short.

Still, the film is sufficiently charmingly made and well-acted that even if it’s not entirely satisfying, the film still achieves the feat of taking you into a world you may not otherwise have known about, and entertains you in the process.

Fabelmans is now in cinemas.