This is a REALLY tough film to review and somehow, do it justice?
But I will try.
Ok. So. Greatest Hits Albums. Or tours. The idea is that the band plays the tracks you love, whilst maybe, sneaking in some of their more personal numbers. Largely, one embraces and recognises the fact that an artist gives the public what they WANT. At the same time; we allow a minor window of self indulgent flexibility, whereby more obscure tunes get an airing. Because, frankly? Well, why not?
And THAT is both the USP key strength and ever so slightly misplaced weakness in THE FABELMANS.
Context, before content, here.
I grew up on his movies and the lore they both created and honoured.
At his best, the man made films which, by nature, paid tribute TO the art and craft OF directing, whilst placing his own, indelible and inimitable stamp on proceedings. A metatextual movie magician!
It’s all subjective, of course. But my ‘best’ Spielberg treats of the last 40 plus years include:
- INDIANA JONES/ THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK: Making an academic into the action hero!
- SCHINDLER’S LIST: Captures the tragic irony as well as the raw, brutal evil of the Holocaust.
- JAWS: Primal fears, personified; onscreen!
Now, the ones I loathe/like less, for whatever reason?
- HOOK: Confuses sentiment with mawkish manipulation.
- EMPIRE OF THE SUN/ COLOUR PURPLE: Steven just wasn’t ready!
- SAVING PRIVATE RYAN: GREAT opening, justifiably winning Spielberg the best Director Oscar. The rest of it? Slow, simplistic squandering of his own progressive motif whereby writer = action hero, rather than here, whereby the platoon’s token incompetent coward is.. (spoiler alert..writer = the one who gets scared and cannot fight).
There are other Spielberg efforts which rank as middling. I could go through his filmography. Extensive and fairly prolific, though, so we’d be here all day. Sorry! What I can say, safely, in summary, of his entire body of work, is that Steven has NEVER made a ‘bad’ movie. The CRAFT is always first rate. And therein lies the real asset of THE FABELMANS: its expertly woven moral aesthetic. Art means science; heart and family, tempered by the challenge to grow and let go.
It’s a coming of age movie. With film-making as as the way into the hero’s journey. But that is just the beginning of its appeal. Every scene is defined in rich textures of colour, light, sound and associated atmospherics.
Does it have save /end the world stakes? No. And yet, the subject matter (largely concerned with the breakup, gradually, of a family unit) WILL hit home.
You MUST let yourself cry while watching. CATHARSIS!
The acting is first rate. Gabriel LaBelle is the next Shia LaBeouf. Not in the sense of going barmy for their art (though frankly, all the best actors are a BIT mad; forgive them?). It’s that he captures a young Spielberg, through the 1960s and beyond. Yet he does not do an ‘impression’. This is an autobiographical film without being a ‘true’ story per se. Our hero is awkward but also, heroic; romantic and cool whilst retaining nerd credentials.
Michelle Williams and Paul Dano give Oscar worthy performances. They personify the struggle of parenthood. How does one ‘be’ both responsible adult and, somehow, engage with and relate to, their kids? That. You will know, when you see it. Subtle. Startling. Sublime!
And if you prefer Steven Spielberg as action film-maker as opposed to the creative and poetic ponder mode? No problem! This film IS atmospheric. FEEL every move, shift, cut of film and imminent threat (not so much to life and limb as to a precariously balanced domestic status; though both do of course happen, kinda!).
John Williams returns to score the picture and gives Haydn level tunes. Not stuff one can sing in the shower, but dramatic, well thought out and beautifully positioned.
Fans of Spielberg’s franchise/ popcorn classic fare? You’ll appreciate the threat to family unit (Seth Rogen : I loathe both him and the character he plays).
As in: the ‘Uncle’ is portrayed akin to the shark in JAWS. There in the background, waiting to pounce and break up a family, maybe.
The kitchen sink scenes are very ET. And the Dad is exactly like Professor Jones, Senior, from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Non Spielberg fans? No worries. There is something, for everyone, here. Think of watching LICORICE PIZZA meets BLUE SKY.
IE: This film is a substantial meditation on growing up/coming of age, via motif of mad mother one cannot help but love; confronting darkness in that whilst retrieving a measure of love and hope.
- Drags in pace and purpose on occasion?
- I loathe the use of Christian imagery, juxtaposed against a basic trivialisation of severe and sinister, anti-Semitic bullying.
- The ending is a BIT neat and tidy.
- The mother’s rival suitor needed a good kicking (imho).
- Spielberg is heterosexual. No question! His adorable wife, Kate Capshaw is sexy and beautiful and wrote one of the founding works on special needs education (trust me, I am a teacher). Yet if one did not know better, there could be seen a kind of implicit homo-erotic inadequacy at the core of this essentially Oedipal tale?
- IE: focus here is very much on male inadequacy? Cuckold Dad who fails to fight back. Etc. To be fair, that’s not so much a quibble as observation. But yeah. Just needed an edit, maybe. Much like the occasional review. 😉
Perhaps, for balance, I would cite how sexily Michelle Williams is shot in the film? Even so, we could have used more of that; fewer volley ball jocks in speedos? In the interests of equality, Steven.
Just sayin’. Anyway. Moving swiftly on.
I did say this was a Greatest Hits album, not necessarily a masterpiece, right?But a GREATEST OF GREAT HITS. From possibly, THE GREATEST FILMMAKER. EVER. So see this film. Now!
Of course, one longs for Spielberg to just give us another Indiana Jurassic Jaws or whatever. Nevertheless, the pervasive thrill is in seeing how he made such gems and you get that, here in THE FABELMANS.
Get ready to leave the Cinema, inspired; as credits roll. You might not aspire direct films. But you can and must make your own counterpart art. NOW! This is your wake-up call. Accept it, via vicarious tutorial, from Steven Spielberg.
THE FABELMANS = Love letter to cinema, from one of its greatest directors. By extension, it’s a reminder of what made him so good and also, why we all adore movies. Immediate classic. Just for that.
Oh and look out for a most surprising, revelatory and entertaining cameo at the end.
RECOMMENDED: A ++ SPIELBERG’S GREATEST HITS!