The Fabelmans (2022) – Review
(4 / 4)
The Fabelmans is Steven Spielberg’s most personal and vulnerable picture to date, chronicling the turmoil and passion of his youth. Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) is an avatar for Spielberg’s childhood, using filmmaking to escape the angst of the dysfunction of his parents’ marriage.
Many films have tried and failed to meaningfully tackle the conflict between artistic passion and family connection. The Fabelmans distinguishes itself by smashing the two against each other in heart-wrenching agony.
Passion and family begin separate, but bleed closer and closer until they collide repeatedly in traumatic fashion. The resulting drama in Sammy’s life and family forms an intensely compelling and relatable emotional narrative.
Sammy is the protagonist of The Fablemans, but the emotional weight of the film equally lies with his parents Burt (Paul Dano) and Mitzi (Michelle Williams). The film is ultimately about Sammy, and by proxy Spielberg, reconciling his idealized view of his parents with their shortcomings.
Sammy is enraptured as a child by the spectacle of his first movie, desperately attempting to recreate the scenes with toys at home. Given his father’s 8mm camera, Sammy rapidly iterates on his craft as he grows older.
Burt and his best friend Bennie (Seth Rogen) soon switch employers, moving the Fabelmans to Arizona. Now a teenager, Sammy begins filming more complex productions in the Arizona desert with his Boy Scout troop.
Audiences may assume this plot will continue as a standard auteur biopic, but they could not be any further from the truth. The Fabelmans plot quickly picks up intensity, as Sammy uses filmmaking to disassociate from his real life trauma. Heavy antisemitism from classmates compounds his angst from Burt and Mitzi’s unstable marriage.
While creating his films allows him to escape, showing them to audiences gives Sammy great pain. His projects are an outpouring of his creative passion, and he desperately craves approval for his work. Once his escapist films can no longer be kept separate from his real life, Sammy’s true narrative arc begins.
The Fabelmans portrayal of Sammy’s unstable home, as well as the antisemitism he faces, are incredibly realistic. Burt and Mitzi exactly match the vibe of dysfunctional marriages. There is a shared feeling in their family of something secret, something everyone can feel but nobody can name or see.
This palpable sense of unnatural wrongness permeates the feature, and is instantly relatable to those who grew up in similar home situations.
The Fablemans depiction of the antisemitism that Sammy faces is visceral and gut-punching. He receives vicious taunts, slurs and assaults that will shock Gentile audiences, but which Jewish audiences will find bitterly familiar.
Even more so, the moments where Sammy is forced to compromise himself for the approval of his Christian peers are heart-rending in their accuracy.
Spielberg perfectly captures the sense of alienation from mainstream society that Jewish children and families have felt for decades. Even if viewers can’t directly relate to Sammy’s experiences, they will feel sincere empathy for his pain.
Michelle Williams and Paul Dano both give excellent performances as expected; notable is how Seth Rogen as Bennie rounds out their dyad. It’s always exciting when primarily comedic actors like Rogen do dramatic work; he has a healthy command of his delivery.
The entire ensemble around LaBelle carries their weight, and gives Glass Onion healthy competition for SAG’s Best Cast/Ensemble award. Audiences will do well to experience this prestige picture on the silver screen; The Fabelmans is a compelling and moving film that connects with you deeply.