Am I failing as a movie reviewer if I really don’t know what to say about a film?
Let’s talk about THE FABELMANS, Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical movie about his family and how he was inspired to become one of Hollywood’s most reliable directors.
I saw this movie in a theater back in November (maybe it was October?). I walked out thinking, man I really enjoyed that movie. It could have gone so wrong (hello Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light), but in the sure hands of Spielberg and co-screenwriter Tony Kushner it didn’t. It’s a pretty entertaining 2 hours and 30 minutes. So why am I having such a tough time writing about it. Why has it taken me months to formulate an opinion I feel comfortable putting on “paper”?
I really don’t know. It’s a genius explaining how he became a genius. So maybe I found that a bit off-putting. The only character that I would consider likeable is Spielberg’s analog, Sammy Fabelman (competently played by Gabriel LaBelle). Michelle Williams was nominated for Best Actress for playing Sammy’s mom Mitzi and while she’s decent, it’s not close to her best work. Paul Dano is also decent as his dad, Burt Fabelman. But he’s kind of one note until near the end. Judd Hirsch swoops in for a completely bananas 5 minutes or so, then he’s gone and some of the energy of the film goes with him. There are some other fine performances, including Seth Rogen as close family friend Uncle Bennie (who it turns out Mitzi is in love with). But nothing that blew me away. Really the only performance that stuck with me comes at the very end when David Lynch shows up.
And maybe that’s my problem. Maybe Spielberg is too close to the story to make it really interesting or daring. Or at least interesting to me. I know many critics have adored THE FABELMANS, putting it on their Best of 2022 lists. The Academy obviously liked it, gracing it with a Best Picture nomination and Spielberg with a Best Director nod.
I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it. It is very captivating in the theater. I was glued to the screen while watching it. But these many months later, it’s a cypher to me. It was fun, and I’d watch it if it comes up on HBO on a Sunday afternoon. But it’s not something I’ve spent any time thinking about since I saw it. Contrast that with TÁR, BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, EVERTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE or TOP GUN: MAVERICK. I have thought of or re-watched those films a lot in the past year. I’ve sought them out, I even purchased the TÁR Blu Ray. I have even sought out ARMAGEDDON TIME, a film with a very similar theme. James Gray got it right and hooked me. But THE FABELMANS? Not so much.
There’s obviously nothing wrong with any of that. Sometimes a film hits you in the feels or the head and you cannot get past it or forget it. THE FABELMANS didn’t work for me on that level. And I’m sure Spielberg will live just fine without my adoration.