It has one of the world’s most recognised Directors, Steven Spielberg. It has nominations for Best Film and Best Lead Actress, Michelle Williams. Reviews rave about it and cinephiles adore it. Yet the thing is, The Fablemans is just a boring film about the younger years of the world’s biggest Director Steven Spielberg.
Before I go on however, I will admit Michelle Williams as Mitzi Fableman is one of the performances of the year. Williams not only manages to radiate off the screen, she out-acts anyone in a scene with her. This one piece of the coming of age story however, might be the only good thing about it.
Written and Directed by Spielberg, The Fabelmans is the semi-autobiographical story of Spielberg’s youth. It delves into his introduction and sometimes obsession to the film industry. But intentionally or unintentionally the film ends up having very little about film, film making or a stellar career. It’s about a marriage that was doomed from the start.
A young boy, Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle) is being taken to his first cinema experience with his parents. Nervous and excited, Sammy is glued to the screen. But when the scene calls for a horrific train crash with people being thrown into the air, his parents realise they may have made a mistake.
Traumatised and unable to sleep he decides he wants a train set to recreate that daunting scene. But when his father, Burt (Paul Dano) isn’t happy with the way he is treating his toys, his mother, Mitzi (Michelle Williams) suggests he film the crash with his fathers video camera. This way he can watch it again and again and again.
This moment sets in motion an obsession with film. Filming every family occasion and making little western films in his spare time, Sammy’s ability and adventure in film grows. Using friends from his Scouts group Sammy creates epic small films to showcase.
But what he captures on film one family holiday changes his family forever. His mother has been having a secret relationship with Burt’s best friend and business partner Bennie (Seth Rogan). While Sammy is burdened his mother agrees to move the family to LA for Burt’s work. A way to get the family and Mitzi and Burt’s relationship back on track.
Things go from bad to worse as Mitzi becomes depressed and eventually leaves Burt with Sammy in LA and takes her three daughters back to Arizona. Sammy spends his time working hard to get a foot in the door in Hollywood. But after countless rejections and no replies to his letters, Sammy finally gets his break when he gets a chance meeting with John Ford and sets in motion Sammy’s future as one of the worlds greatest Directors.
So as you can see from the recap of the film, there is actually in effect little to do with film making or directing. Rather it focuses on the relationship of Sammy’s parents Mitzi and Burt and how that had an effect of Sammy and his sisters. Now to clarify, this is fine as there’s nothing to say it was a movie about filmmaking or directing. But the story of a dysfunctional family is nothing new, nor has this been very interesting.
As you would expect from the world’s greatest Director, Steven Spielberg, visually there is what can only be described as that glint an eye gets in a moment of happiness. You can feel the attention to detail and connection to each scene as the viewer is taken on a journey. That’s one thing Spielberg is always able to capture, he builds the world and then gets his actors to the place they need to be so they can be part of that world.
Overall, The Fabelmans is yet another story about a child of separated parents. It’s not a new idea and this wasn’t executed in any particular way that would stop you in your tracks. But this is a story of someone’s life and you can feel that connection as you watch it. The only downside is, that connection doesn’t help the fact this film lacks in entertainment or the ability to entertain. It is bland and at times rather boring. The only thing that makes this film great is the outstanding performance by Michelle Williams.