Everyone who loves movies remembers the film that pushed them toward their passion. Whether that passion led to watching every movie you could, reviewing or making films, that movie was special. For some, it was “Jaws,” created by Steven Spielberg, the subject of this film.
For others, it was “Star Wars,” written and directed by George Lucas. For young Sam Fabelman, playing the Spielberg role in “The Fabelmans, “loosely based on his childhood, it was “The Greatest Show on Earth.” At the theater with his family, the camera moves in on Sam’s face as a train smashes into a car, sending it flying in the air. He can’t stop thinking about that moment. He knows what he wants to do from that moment on. He gets a trainset and a camera and recreates the moment he loved so much. Recording it was the way to keep his trainset from being ruined. He could see it as often as he wanted without wasting the expensive Lionel set he was given.
He moves on and starts making short films. His sisters are suddenly cast in everything whether they want to be or not. They’re good sports about it. They move from New Jersey to Phoenix, Arizona, where the scenery assists his brain in jumping into high gear. He gets a crew together who catch and sells baby scorpions for the money to make something more high-end than he’s used to. He learns how to do every part of making a movie. His editing is impressive, but when he feels his actors sound fake, he removes their dialogue and plays music over it. He also pokes holes in the film, which creates flashes of light needed to look more realistic in a battle scene. His father, Burt (Dano), is delighted about the advances his son has made.
Though he appreciates Sam’s enthusiasm, he still refers to what he’s doing as a hobby. He wants Sam to go to college, upsetting Sam for not seeing what he’s doing is not a game but art he can do for the rest of his life. His mother, Mitzi (Williams), very much supports Sam’s dreams. The family and Burt’s best friend Bennie (Rogen) go on a camping trip where Mitzi gets a touch blitzed. She dances in front of the car’s headlights, a scene that, to be honest, doesn’t make a lot of sense. At his mother’s urging, Sam records her. She’s proud of her skill. Sam’s sisters try to stop Sam from recording, as you can see straight through her white gown. It isn’t long before Sam discovers something he wishes he hadn’t. Keeping the news to himself has depressed him, and he has turned against a person he once counted on and loved more than anyone else in his life. The family moves again, this time to California. Sam continues filmmaking, even though what he saw through his camera lens almost puts him off the idea of returning to his obsession for the rest of his life.
I liked this story; I loved the score and the characters… and this film will do well. Movies are magical and Spielberg has given us plenty of that. Seeing how it started this way was vital because nothing was handed to Spielberg. He did have a lot of support, but the love of story-making was in him from the beginning. He had to battle family issues while trying to hold onto a dream that could easily slip away. Still, once he focused on his vision and less on others, it came much easier for him. In the end, he gets a television gig. He also meets the man who made the film that lured his ambitions in the direction of moviemaking. The business he landed in for which he has become one of the most successful of all time.
I really enjoyed “The Fabelmans,” but it’s not my favorite of the year. It is fascinating to peek inside filmmaker’s worlds every now and again, but for this to be about Spielberg, directed and co-written by him, I found it a bit docile and offbeat. Mitzi plays the piano for the family for what feels like an hour-long scene. A few scenes like this slow the pace, and I expected more from one of the best directors of our time.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Tony Kushner, Steven Spielberg
Starring: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Gabriel LaBelle, Jeannie Berlin, Julia Butters, Robin Bartlett, Keeley Karsten and Judd Hirsch
Run Time: 2h 31m
Produced by: Kristie Macosko Krieger p.g.a., Steven Spielberg p.g.a., Tony Kushner p.g.a.
Executive Producers: Carla Raij, Josh McLaglen