Clifford Rieders

Hollywood fooling Itself

The fable about The Fabelmans can only be described as a self-indulgent, narcissistic, boring session of self-therapy. The message is that great filmmakers, writers and entertainers should not make movies about themselves. There have been compelling autobiographies by gifted writers, but The Fabelmans is not one of them.

Steven Spielberg, who has a knack for the artistry in filmmaking, presents the grandparents of the young wannabe filmmaker as stereotype Yiddish Jews with phony accents, and his parents, particularly his mother, as paper-thin cutouts of suburbia as it existed in the mind of the filmmaker in the early 1960s. Dad is a pre-computer geek nerd, and his mother a passionate, doubtless warmhearted, neurotic woman who missed her calling as a pianist, while having a not-so-subtle love affair with her husband’s best friend.

The critics had a lot to say about the fact that this was a “Jewish family”.  The Judaism in this family was a label only. Hardly was anything Jewish about this family, except for the fact that it represented assimilation at its worst. This was not a Jewish family with a Jewish life, Jewish values, Jewish education or any kind of Jewish lifestyle. Rather, they were cartoon figures, vacuous as real personalities, filled with the most trite monologues in which they expressed their love for one another, film, art, and everything Americana about the period in which they lived.

Moving from place to place in search of a better job, Dad was self-absorbed in his computers, while the young Spielberg-like Fabelman could not do more to present himself as the perfect young genius, just waiting to burst on the scene of filmania.  There is no question that this young man was going to be a smashing success, because he was so likeable, as opposed to the whiny, irritable, empty adults and fellow youngsters with whom the nascent prodigy was surrounded. Everyone had little or no substance to offer this film, except perhaps the weird old uncle with the very poor fake of an Eastern European accent.

Spielberg, in his “semi” autobiography, reaches for depth and forges only characterless characters. His mother, with her bleach-blonde countenance, tearful glances and heartrending monologue, comes closest to revealing some personality.  However, even at that, she is too much about too little.

There comes a time in the life of every writer, and filmmakers are no exception, where they push the envelope so far that they become lost in a world of their own making, inhabited by only their imagination. Spielberg, in The Fabelmans, creates a pseudo-psychological semi-disturbed family, living within a caricature of semi-Jewish life during America’s runup to the late 1960s disruptiveness. The film could hardly be described as a crouching tiger ready to spring into action, and it is certainly not a psychological thriller. It is, at best, a thread-bare attempt to bring to life a family that appears to be doing well, when in reality mom is out hustling the man who pretends to be a friend of the family. Just whom is hustling whom makes little difference. The focus is on Spielberg’s imagination of himself, an unstoppable cinematographic genius, held back by self-absorbed adults who simply do not fully appreciate the cataclysmic success soon to be released by their warmhearted, sensitive and highly desirable young son. Even the girls in the family are presented as crying babies who have little to offer other than an occasional pout and screaming match.

The plot of the film is slow moving, the message lost in anxiety, and the actual topic is hard to keep a focus on.

All we can say about the film is that Steven Spielberg was always interested in cinema from the time that he saw his first movie. Around that not-so-shocking revelation is built a mildly ethnic family, with few clearly discernible ethical or moral boundaries, and a world which exists with a few antisemitic bad guys in the public school. Even those disgusting, disgraceful bigots turn out to be not so bad, thanks to the incredibly clever and genuinely capable, thoughtful filmmaker to be.

I would give this movie one rotten apple. I am not even sure one. It is really not a movie that I would recommend to anyone else. Perhaps the most redeeming factor in the film is that I was capable of watching it to the end, but only because the critics said it was so good and I was wondering what they could possibly be talking about. Perhaps Mr. Spielberg feels better now that he has unleashed his emotional baggage and spilled his guts on an adoring public. However, had his family been steeped in Jewish practice as well as “feelings”, perhaps things would have turned out better for the filmmaker and his family.

About the Author
Cliff Rieders is a Board Certified Trial Advocate in Williamsport, is Past President of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association and a past member of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority.
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