This review was written by Transition Year student, Katherine, in February 2023.
‘The Fabelmans’ is not just a story about Steven Spielberg’s childhood, but rather a story of family and art, told through the eyes of a visionary. Whether you have a passion for the arts or a family you hold dear to you, you’ll be leaving the cinema inspired to follow your dreams or even just call your parents. Maybe even both. Compared to Spielberg’s earlier works, this is no blockbuster, which might have been the secret ingredient as to why I think this is his magnum opus.
This simple story leaves much room for relatability but is done well enough that the ‘simplicity’ of it shifts your focus on all the cinematic aspects to be admired. And there is much to be in awe over. From Michelle Williams’ bona fide performance as Mitzy Fabelman, the stunning cinematography captured on film, and of course Spielberg’s polished directing. Sure, at times it is slightly ‘cheesy’, with Paul Dano giving nothing more than an overly cornball ‘kind 50s father’, which is unfortunate for such a good actor.
On the other hand, Michelle Williams is phenomenal. The character of Mitzy is, in my eyes, the unofficial main character. She gives the film a darker edge, being the pinboard for topics like depression, infidelity, and the artist that never was. She also acts as the perfect ‘what if’, being an example of someone who chose, or had to choose, family over art. The film even acknowledges this when Uncle Boris, played by Judd Hirsch, tells Sammy “Family, art. It’ll tear you in two”.
The film is filled to the brim with sentimental value and ‘life-lessons’, but when it walks on the edge of tackiness or melancholy, it keeps you from yawning with the crisp balance of the two. Though the 151-minute run-time can seem daunting, this time will be worth it, especially if you watch it on the big screen, undeniably the place to see it. After all, it is a love letter to cinema. It being shot on KODAK 35mm makes you entranced in the world that is of a Jewish nuclear family living in 50s American sub-urbs. It leaves you with a feeling of nostalgia, as if you yourself were Steven Spielberg reminiscing on his childhood.
Naturally, this film will punch you in the heart if you grew up dreaming of the world of film. It explores how art itself is not taken seriously, often just being referred to as a ‘hobby’. The film does this especially well, where instead of demonizing the people who oppose the idea of a career in film, it shows and explains everyone’s perspective without judgement. However, I was infuriated witnessing everyone dismissing Sammy Fabelman’s passion, another testament to the films immersive nature.
At times it can be quite monotonous, seeing as there have been an abundance of ‘love-letter to film’ movies and even biographical films. There isn’t much about The Fabelmans that you can’t already predict; kid sees a movie, life is changed, family fights, a ‘do what makes you happy’ speech, and so on and so forth. Granted, nothing about it is done for shock value or trailer worthy moments, making it self-aware in that sense. The only real difference to films of the same nature is that its Spielberg, and it is the curiosity of what is real and what is fiction that reels you in.
All in all, The Fabelmans is exactly what you would expect from a film based on Steven Spielberg’s upbringing and love for cinema, directed by the legend himself. Even in knowing that, I still fell for it. An easy watch coupled with compelling performances, genuine writing and of course, masterful directing. It is to no-one’s surprise that the Oscars and film critics ate this up. Whilst the average person might not be hungry for yet another sentimental film An endearing journey through the beginning of a legend.
AN CAILÍN CIÚIN
13.10, 18.30, 20.40
THE FIVE DEVILS
15.50 (OC), 20.40
The IFI is supported by The Arts Council