I believe the film The Fabelmans is underrated. That may seem to be an odd conclusion, given the fact that it won the Golden Globe for Best Drama and director Steven Spielberg. Plus, it’s been nominated for seven Academy Awards.
It’s the commentaries, and I’ve read a few of them, that say, e.g., that “the ending is something of a foregone conclusion, as we all know what happened to Spielberg.” I think this is a banal observation, given the number of movies based on actual events for which the audience may know the outcome.
In any case, the protagonist is Sammy Fabelman (Gabrielle LaBelle), whose life is a fictionalized portrayal of Spielberg’s journey. It’s the journey that is interesting.
His mother, Mitzi (Michelle Williams), is a talented pianist without much chance to express it. Her artistic outlet was supporting Sammy’s desire to film everything, a passion that started after a family outing to a movie.
His dad, Burt (Paul Dano), a technological innovator, tolerates his son’s “hobby,” a term Sammy rails against. Burt’s friend and colleague Bennie (Seth Rogan) is a like an uncle to the Fabelman kids.
The movie worked for me because it shared some universal truths about family dynamics. Couples are complicated. Secrets are kept. For instance, that uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch), who Mitzi’s mother warned Mitzi about from the grave, shows up.
Mostly, it’s about how, sometimes, an artist is compelled to do their art. Looking back at his growing up so late in his career may have given Spielberg the perspective a younger writer-director could not have mined as well.
Some critics thought it was overly sentimental. Sentimental, sure, but it also shows some family members as fish out of water, especially when the Fabelmans leave the relative comfort of Arizona for the foreign land that is California.
All the Oscar nominees are deserving. I was particularly taken by the not-nominated Paul Dano, whose Burt is walking a tightrope between being the left-brained breadwinner and trying to address his wife’s and son’s more right-brained passions.I’ve never favored the idea of a performance being ‘snubbed,” but some have used the term about his performance.
My wife and I saw the film at Albany’s Spectrum Theatre in mid-January.