The Fabelmans is a 2022 American coming-of-age drama film directed by Steven Spielberg and written and produced by Tony Kushner and Spielberg. It is a semi-autobiographical story loosely based on Spielberg’s adolescence and first years as a filmmaker, told through an original story of the fictional Sammy Fabelman, a young aspiring filmmaker himself who explores how the power of films can help him see the truth about his dysfunctional family and those around him.
It’s understandable that Spielberg waited for the passing of his parents (in the last 5 years) before producing The Fabelmans. It would not have been easy to witness family ‘dirty laundry’ being aired so publicly. While it is not difficult to assume that Spielberg put a huge chunk of himself into Sammy Fabelman and his family, it is genuinely surprising that the picture painted by him is so dark and disturbing.
Much of what is seen here in The Fabelmans has been echoed in Patrick Read Johnson’s 5-25-1977 – the early film obsession, the amateur film-making that reveals talent and the fact that a fictionalised Spielberg is depicted – comes across a little stereotypical in that respect. What is probably not typical is the family dysfunction, especially of Mitski Fabelman, Sammy’s mother.
There is a self-absorption and self-entitlement that Mistski expresses, perhaps a reflection of the changes in American society in the 1950s/1960s as women grew more independent and somewhat separate from their roles as wives, mothers and home-makers. But Sammy is able to find solace in film-making. This extends further to the high school bullying and anti-Semitic behaviour that he endures – film provides the ultimate escape and revenge.
In the final analysis, The Fabelmans is overlong with a weak story structure. It is certainly unsentimental, awkward and disturbing to watch in parts – not the feel good vibe that the trailers hinted at, for sure. For once, Spielberg fails miserably at engaging the audience.
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