As he reaches adolescence, Sammy Fabelman aspires to become a filmmaker but soon discovers a shattering family secret. He explores how the power of films can help him see the truth.
THE GOOD STUFF
MICHELLE WILLIAMS- I’m not too sure that there is an actress in the game that regularly takes on super emotionally complicated tragic figures as often as Michelle Williams does. This kind of role would be a career highlight for almost any other actress, but for Williams, it is fairly routine. Usually, characters with so many issues are subjects of their own movies centered around them. I tend to think that it’s perhaps more of a challenge for an actress to tackle a role like this when the screen time is limited.
Williams is often the most interesting thing in every Oscar-type movie that she does. That is certainly the case here. This is about as easy an Oscar nomination as there can be.
Gabriel LaBelle– Earlier this year, in my review of the ELVIS biopic, I said that there wasn’t going to be a breakout performance this year that could even come close to rivaling what Austin Butler did in that film.
LaBelle is an actor with all but four credits to his name, including this film. It has always spoken to the greatness of Spielberg to find fresh faces such as this to spearhead movies of this magnitude. This is a great performance. LaBelle owns every single solitary scene that he’s in, and given the kind of talent surrounding him, that is a hell of a feat… Actually, he owns every single scene that he’s in….except one.
The Judd Hirsch scene– Many one-scene performances throughout film have merited ubiquitous praise over time. In my humble opinion, these scenes (such as Alec Baldwin in GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, Ned Beatty in NETWORK, Viola Davis in DOUBT, Gloria Foster in THE MATRIX, or even Gene Hackman in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN) serve the purpose of embodying the symbolism of the message of the films they are in.
It is the character played by Judd Hirsch whose scene summarizes what art means to the artists, the things they must put themselves through to satiate their creative hunger, and what ends up happening to them if they do not do it so. Given that I am a man who moved from Seattle to the city of Los Angeles to chase dreams of my own, this scene hits extremely hard and tells the absolute truth.
Filmmaking concatenations– Ultimately, this is a love letter to film. And rather than stating over and over again how much film matters to the main character without really showing how (like in Belfast, for example), this film takes its time in showing the filmmaking evolution of the main character.
Not only do we gradually see how much better he becomes over the years, but we see how much his films distinctively impact everyone around him. Multiple sequences are dedicated to this, and every one of those sequences is spectacular.
THE BAD STUFF
PAUL DANO- Look, I’m a Paul Dano fanboy. One only needs to look at my review of THE BATMAN earlier this year to understand how much I adore this man as an actor. He has proven time and time again that he may have the widest range of any character actor currently in the game. So imagine my absolute shock when a movie like this comes along with him spearheading the cast… Only for this to be the least dynamic character in the film by a long shot in a movie filled with unique and colorful characters.
There are a lot of moments that build for this character to do something interesting, particularly a twist in this movie that shatters the family dynamic that the first act tries so hard to make (more on that in a sec), but nothing happens. Yes, I understand that the character’s blandness may be the entire point. But it does not make for an entertaining performance from a man who’s done nothing but entertaining performances for his whole career.
THE HIGH SCHOOL STUFF- The first two acts of this film that cover the many idiosyncrasies of the Fableman family is borderline top 5 film of the year greatness. Two whole acts. Damn near 90 minutes of covering one family. But, because this is a semi-autobiographical tale, we have to cover some teenage years.
This is when the film introduces a whole batch of brand new characters that are only designed to stay around for a little while, are not even close to being as interesting, and belong in their own movie altogether. The high school portion of this film is where the running time starts becoming somewhat laborious. This section of the film presents nothing unique to any high School CW type of tale that we’ve seen before. All at once, this section of the film feels egregious even though it is necessary to cover in a semi-autobiographical movie.
THE UGLY STUFF
THE TWIST- As the premise foretells, this film has a super important twist that shatters the Fableman family to its very core. Something that the family never really recovers from for the rest of the duration of the film. Something that would have had a way more sizable impact on the audience… had it not been hinted at from the film’s beginning. Nothing is spoken about until about 45 minutes in or so, but to the film’s detriment, you catch on to precisely what this twist is because of all the hints the film is telling you to pick up on. I do feel that this could have been a very impactful twist to throw to the audience had the film not been force-feeding them what was to come.
There have been smaller twists in independent horror movies that I’ve seen this year that have caught the audience off guard more than the twist in this film.
In my humble opinion, Steven Spielberg has been making movies he can do in his sleep for the past couple of years. I truly believe that what audiences want from film directors like him are original, heartfelt pieces like this. This is a man who’s done everything and covered every genre very well. In a time of countless CGI tent poles and limitless budgets, it is low-key heartfelt, risk-taking, Oscar-bait-y Spielberg that is needed in the game right now, even in a film with flaws like the ones here.
THE FABLEMANS is in select cities now and in wide release on November 23rd.