The Fabelmans. I liked it. It is definitely the best film released this 2022 fall season.
It’s a real movie, with real people, not a computer generated farce with uncharismatic leads and former icons phoning it in for the paycheck. However, the script, written by Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner, both long experienced writers and filmmakers, lacked focus.
Was it a movie about the future filmmaker Sam Fabelman’s parents’ disintegrating marriage? Or was it a film about the young Spielberg discovering his lifelong passion? It’s unclear.
The problems begin with the film’s name. Maybe it’s me, but I have never heard of a Jewish family named Fabelman. Was it a reference to “fable” or story teller? “The Fabelmans” never exactly tells us why young Sam is so attracted to filmmaking. Escapism? Artistic vision? Technical fascination?
The conflicts that do appear in the film ring artificial. Why, would his computer geek father, simultaneously encourage and disparage Sam’s desire to be a filmmaker? Why would his mother abandon her empathetic husband and four bright, attractive children for her husband’s best friend?
There are segments in “The Fabelmans” that could have been excised without damage to the narrative. In fact, their inclusion weigh it down. Judd Hirsch drops in for an eccentric turn as a maternal uncle. He attempts an Eastern European accent that fades in and out. Another awkward addition is Sam’s prolonged abuse by his California high school classmates. It is clumsy and overdone.
Excluded from “The Fabelmans” is the fact that they apparently were an observant Jewish family. We see an early shot of them lighting a Hanukah menorah but there is no discussion of how (or whether) Judaism positively impacted their lives. All we get is the angst, none of the joy.
Still, as usual, Spielberg expertly casts his film. The young actors are especially compelling. Despite the segues, the film has an emotional impact.
We learn the source of his celebrated cinematic themes of parental abandonment as seen from the eyes of a child. Steve Spielberg’s oeuvre, as they say, speaks for itself and if one film is released from the oven, not quite finished, it is no reflection on his courage, vision and talent.
So, here’s a L’chaim to Spielberg or Fabelman or whatever he chooses to call himself. He is a once in a generation storyteller who uses words and and images that flick past our brains at rapid speed, leaving indelible memories.