Ha It was the breakup that launched a million blockbusters. It made daddy issues its own spectacle. It led directly to “E.T.”,
“Catch Me If You Can” and the final scene of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, while also paving the way for many iconic films about the breakup of the nuclear family
-which any multiplex would tell you was crisis of the middle class of the 20th century.
And so it stands to reason that “The Fabelmans,” in which Spielberg finally addresses his parents’ divorce head-on — and in exacting autobiographical detail,
every shot a memory — would feel as much our story as his own. I’d say it tried to split the difference between memoir and crowd-pleaser,
but it seems even more determined to reconcile the two: What else would Steven Spielberg’s final divorce film be about but the hope for some kind of reconciliation?
From the very beginning of this Spielberg film—a scene that marks the beginning of films for Spielberg—the cinematography is defined by the illusion of coherence it creates between unrelated things.
And people. His parents’ differences are never more apparent than in the first scene of “The Fabelmans,”
which takes place outside a screening of “The Greatest Show on Earth” on a snowy New Jersey night in the winter of 1952.
And not just any night. in the winter of 1952, but specifically on January 10 (unless you’re prepared for how well Spielberg puts it).
Leaning over his pint-sized son, straight-laced computer engineer Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano) explains how persistence of vision allows 24 still and separate images to accelerate so quickly they appear as one fluid image.
Mitzi (Michelle Williams), the boy’s artistic mother, offers a more imaginative explanation. “Movies are like dreams you never forget,”
he tells young Sammy. They are both right, of course: they are two sides of the same brain overlapping in the light of the projector.
Go for Spielberg’s original face and a moment of redemption for one of the most reviled Best Picture winners.
The story continues
Two hours later—after the Fabelmans have moved from New Jersey to Arizona, from Arizona to Northern California,
and from happy Shabbat dinners to classic American disagreements where you get your mom to admit she’s in love with Seth Rogen—someone in a pinch turns to Sammy and says,
“Life isn’t like the movies, Fabelman.” We know that’s not entirely true, not only because Spielberg has spent the last 50 years making all kinds of extraordinary films that stab us with a deep sense of personal appreciation,
“The Fabelmans” so delicately blur the line between life and movies. that it’s impossible to tell the difference,
between Spielberg’s memories and the largely toothless film he makes about them. This too is a kind of reconciliation.
Everything in “The Fabelmans” is real and unreal at once, as if a documentary about the director’s life is shown twice through his own artistic interpretation of the same events. Tellingly,
the film’s only real dream sequence—a skin-scratching nightmare—is presented at face value and segues into the scene that follows without being anything but a quickie.
Even more tellingly, this mushy biopic that Spielberg made about his uniquely mythologized adolescence is one of his lightest and least sentimental films,
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even as Sammy matures and swims in deeper waters. What begins as a self-congratulatory tribute to Spielberg’s magical genius.
(complete with tactful nods to some of his most totemic works) soon splinters into a more complicated story about a kid,
who falls in love with movies while his family crumbles around him. Yet few scenes penetrate deep below the surface, and it abounds at every turn.
A bravura sequence in which Sammy’s (real) uncle Boris comes to visit embodies how the “Fabelmans”
try to straddle the line between memory and imagination in such a way that it’s hard to tell whether Spielberg’s focus is more on his family or the audience.
Played by a heavily-accented Judd Hirsch, who owns his one-scene role as a former Hollywood stagehand with the kind of boisterous chutzpah that every Jew of a certain age knows from his own family stories,
Uncle Boris shows up long enough to tell Sammy he’s going to having to choose between the family he loves and the art he could love even more.
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It’s a seminal moment in a film that moves from one formative experience to the next, unfolding like a Borscht Belt routine (the audience at the film’s TIFF premiere erupted into applause when Hirsch’s character left).
Uncle Boris correctly predicts that Sammy will soon find himself forced to choose between Hollywood and Arizona, but
“The Fabelmans” is fully aware that its very existence suggests that Sammy’s choice is not as mutually exclusive as it is presented. to him.
One look at the steely determination in the eyes of Gabriel LaBelle (the young actor a dead ringer for the director he plays) and .
it’s clear that Sammy’s life will at least be something like the movies, if the only way to do that is to make movies like his life.
the fabelmans’ review analysis
The sharpest line of Spielberg and Tony Kushner’s episodic script follows the evolution of how Sammy makes his films and the role that the camera as a lens plays in his life.
During the New Jersey sky years, in which the only real tension is between Mitzi and her mother-in-law (Jeannie Berlin), Sammy’s Bolex B8SL is a magical device that captures a certain innocence.
the fabelmans’ review a novel
“Fabelmans” is a little thick, as the Haley Joel Osment-looking kid who plays Sammy the Pipsy obsessively uses his own hands as a screen for his first home movies — the dreaded “Belfast”
vibes are strong early on, even if necessary to establish lost idylls—but the formative stuff works like a young boy’s cute encounter with the love of his life.
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