Spielberg’s love letter to his love for movies is a tear jerker
Steven Spielberg’s immaculate, moving ode to his journey of falling in love with movies will remind you of your own. Right from the moment you see your first film, to the first time you shoot a video and try to do it like what you saw. Your memory perhaps might replay those moments like a film itself but they will never be as good as Spielberg’s moment of reckoning. He grows that sapling and nurtures it like only he can to produce one of the best movies of the year to watch as a lover of cinema. If Cinema Paradiso inspired the generation before us, The Fabelmans is our moment to fall in love all over again.
It is so hard to imagine someone like him still jousting with ideas that could compel the average Joe. Some of Spielberg’s recent works could never convince someone that he is also behind The Fabelmans. There is a rustic charm attached to his latest project, admittedly a semi-autobiographical account, that separates it from them. Without special effects, tech wizardry, or all the nonsense that plagues the modern film, Spielberg conjures magic in the classical style.
As the title suggests, the movie revolves around the Fabelmans, led by Burt (Paul Dano) and Mitzi (Michelle Williams). Among the four kids, Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle) is our main focus. He is reminiscent of a young Spielberg and becomes obsessed with moviemaking after seeing The Greatest Show on Earth. The narrative oscillates between his coming of age and an ecstatic family drama that unfolds almost unwittingly to the viewer. Spielberg has full control over his creative resources and keeps the story format as simple as can be.
He does not even try to experiment in how he tells the story and if you have become so attached to words like “quirky”, “offbeat”, and “oddball” that you only want to see stories like them, The Fabelmans is not for you. Its demise at the box office was greatly saddening. At the same time, it exposed our frailties as consumers of content in the modern age. Are words like “sentiment”, “tradition”, and “values” completely wiped off our radar? Can we not appreciate stories that hold on to those notions and allow actors to just act and not care about giving certain kinds of shots to enhance them with computers later?
One would argue that The Fabelmans appeals more to a viewer who lived through those times. And to a certain extent, they would be right. When Sammy cuts his first movie with small strips of film manually attached together and then played through a digital editor, most of us were dumbfounded. All we could do was watch in wonderment at how far we have come. But it is those little details that spring out of Spielberg’s memories that truly make this experience special. And to that point, even with his traditional setup, The Fabelmans will perhaps be guilty of offering us characters and stories that are too modern.
Its central conceit is almost caught out – frozen in time – making it a truly timeless classic. Earlier this year we saw Richard Linklater’s Apollo 10 ½ which captured an entire generation’s bated absorption of one of mankind’s momentous achievements. It was another rendition of a filmmaker’s personal experiences living through an era. Spielberg definitely tries to do the same with The Fabelmans, although his exploration of his childhood sticks more to a conventional form of drama. The life of the film are the actors. Williams, Dano, Gabriel LaBelle, and a hugely impressive Seth Rogen, add immense strength to its emotional fabric. They become the living embodiments of Spielberg’s imagination, seamlessly exhibiting their talents.
Dano and Williams get several shining moments in the film. The pair plays contrasting personalities, thereby proving to be complimentary to each other’s disposition. It is quite astonishing how they never look like characters in the film. In fact, that is The Fabelmans biggest strength. This kind of cinema mimics the human condition the closest any medium possibly can. You get to nit-pick a part of yourself in those characters that uncompromisingly represent those complexities.
Sammy’s coming-of-age moment, and that final meeting with “the world’s greatest living director”, leave you with an important lesson. And the fact that it comes from Spielberg directly makes it even more endearing. Do what you love. Find something that makes you want to come back the next day and start all over again with the enthusiasm of the previous day. Passions live and die with your will to pursue them. Against all odds, at times even your family, you must persist and discover the strength of character to selflessly become a source of light for others through your work.
Read More: The Fabelmans Ending Explained
Verdict - 8.5/10