Acclaimed Hollywood director Steven Spielberg’s latest film The Fabelmans is delightful and emotional in equal measure. Such is the art of storytelling of the master filmmaker that he has not made his semi-autobiographical ode to cinema boring or serious to watch.
The film reminds one of Paresh Mokashi’s award-winning film Harishchandrachi Factory (2009), which was based on the life of Dadasaheb Phalke, known as the Father of Indian cinema. Mokashi made sure to make the story delightful and fun while showing the story of how Phalke first discovered the movies and went on to make them and also innovate along the way, becoming one of the greatest filmmakers in the world.
Spielberg’s own story and his journey are no less. The Fabelmans shows the story of his childhood, teens, and young adulthood before he made his first commercial or proper film. It shows his curiosity as a child and his experimentations, and how he was encouraged by his artist (pianist) mother. Let’s discover why The Fabelmans works.
Ode to Cinema Films
In 2022, with Speilberg’s The Fabelmans and Pan Nalin’s Last Film Show, we saw a comeback of the ‘Ode to Cinema’ genre of movies, after the heartwarming Cinema Paradiso (1988) by Giuseppe Tornatore.
There may have been some such films also making fun of the medium and the making process. And there have been some like Be Kind Rewind (2008) or the documentary Malegaon Ka Superhero (2012) that show us a different kind of passion for cinema from unlikely filmmakers. And the aforementioned Harishchandrachi Factory.
We have come a long way in movie-making. Films made with smartphones are another genre that is no longer ignored and even celebrated with awards – and we are talking of amateur films here and not like Vishal Bhardwaj’s #ShotoniPhone short film Fursat (2023). It all comes down to the passion for filmmaking! Nevertheless, the ‘Ode to cinema’ films only seem genuine and touch the heart when they involve a personal story. And so The Fabelmans, the tale of celebrated filmmaker Steven Spielberg, works as beautifully as Cinema Paradiso and Last Film Show.
The Fabelmans Plot
The film tells the story of Sammy Fabelman (played by child actor Mateo Zoryon Francis De-Ford and then Gabriel LaBelle) and his wonderment at the cinema. The Fabelmans are a stable family in a typical way – the father Burt (Paul Dano), a computer genius and the loving-sacrificing mother Mitzi (Michelle Williams), with son Sammy and three daughters Reggie (Birdie Borria / Julia Butters), Natalie (Alina Brace / Keeley Karsten) and Lisa (Sophia Kopera). The father’s friend and colleague Bennie (Seth Rogen) is a forever presence in the family, getting too close for comfort. Sam has the full support of his parents but more of his mother, and gets the advice of his life about ‘Art and Family’ by his mother’s Uncle Boris (a terrific Judd Hirsch).
The film tells the tale of Sam’s discovery of cinema running parallel to his growing years, first as a child and then in his teens and young adulthood. So in that, we not only see his earliest films being made on various now-vintage cameras, but also his family life, his parents’ love-life falling apart, and all ‘High-School Musical’ stuff like his teenage angst and first heartbreak, his experience being bullied at school for being Jewish, and the beginning of his journey as a filmmaker.
What we loved
The Fabelmans is not a hurried film in the telling and also the way it has been made. One read that it has been years in the making, since 1999 when Spielberg’s sister Anne had written it in its original form.
The basic idea must have been changed and updated over the years, to give us a lovable film at the end. Remember, this film has been made when Steven Spielberg is not done yet – he is still making films and has made this one, too. (His next film will be The Color Purple releasing in December 2023.) Collaborating again with Tony Kushner who has co-written The Fabelmans with Spielberg and produced it, The Fabelmans has already won at the Golden Globe Awards 2023 and has seven nominations at the Oscar Awards 2023. The Fabelmans makes you laugh all the way and is also very emotional at the right moments. There is not a moment to miss!
What we didn’t
Not much there!
You cast the right actors and your film is already made. More than half the battle is won. With casting by Cindy Tolan, every actor fits in perfectly and wows us with their performance. Special mention to the find Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy, who seems to be living the role. The 20-year-old actor was as involved in the making process as Spielberg would have been in real life – this fact has been revealed by Spielberg himself in the making of The Fabelmans.
Michelle Williams is a worthy nominee for the Academy Award for Best Actress for The Fabelmans. The acclaimed actress delivers another career-defining performance. No one could have played the role of Sammy / Speilberg’s mother better. But LaBelle could also have been nominated for Best Actor, as the lad excels in his role of the bewildered, naive, sincere, good boy of an aspiring filmmaker, as he embarks on his journey.
Paul Dano and Seth Rogen are perfect, but Judd Hirsch as Uncle Boris takes the prize! The rest of the supporting cast is good, too. Special mention for director David Lynch who plays filmmaker John Ford in The Fabelmans.
Perfect! One can sit back and enjoy a Spielberg movie without having to worry about technicalities. The Fabelmans as a film excels in every technical department – with Spielberg’s frequent collaborators in music – the legendary John Williams, cinematography by Janusz Kaminski, and film editing by Sarah Broshar and Michael Kahn.
Since it is a period drama, the sets, and treatment give us the feel of another Spielberg film Munich (2005), which is based around the same time as the director’s early filmmaking years in the 1970s. The film has been Oscar-nominated for Best Production Design (Rick Carter and Karen O’Hara) as well as for Best Original Screenplay (Spiellberg and Kushner) and Best Original Score (John Williams), apart from the norms for Best Director and Best Picture (Spielberg), the aforementioned Best Actress for Michelle Williams and Best Supporting Actor for Judd Hirsch.
If you love cinema and are in love with cinema, The Fabelmans is not to be missed! More so if you love the Hollywood style of filmmaking and especially that of Steven Spielberg. But the movie wins because The Fabelmans seems like your own story and not the filmmakers.
That’s the real victory. It is a delight to watch right till the last shot. The Fabelmans is storytelling at its best. The film certainly had more reactions from the audience in the theatre than Shah Rukh Khan’s Pathaan! As Speilberg says, The Fabelmans is not a metaphor but it comes from (his) memory. The result shows.