review – the fablemans

I’m not a fan of biographical movies because a lot of the time the person that the movie is about is involved – or their family is involved if the person has passed away – so the movie is biased.  It only shows events that the person wants shown.  Other events are briefly mentioned – based on the persons opinion of the event – or completely skipped over in the movie.  It’s even worse if the person the movie is based on works on the movie as a producer, writer, or especially the director.

Also, biographical movies are sometimes “based on” or “inspired by” a person’s life or is “semi-biographical”.  So, the story can be modified or dramatized.  For example, the movie “Almost Famous” is a “semi-autobiographical” movie from the writer/director Cameron Crowe.  The same thing is said about “The Fabelmans”.  It’s based on the life of co-writer and director Steven Spielberg.

In this movie, a young Steven Spielberg is portrayed as Sammy Fabelman.  The movie starts when he is a young boy (Mateo Zoryan) living in New Jersey in “the only house on the street without Christmas lights” with his parents Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano) and Mitzi Fabelman (Michelle Williams) and sisters Natalie (Alina Brace), Reggie (Birdie Borria), and baby Lisa. When Burt gets a new job, the family – along with family friend and Burt’s co-worker “Uncle” Bennie Loewy (Seth Rogen) – move to Arizona where Sammy (now played by Gabriel LaBelle) and his sisters (Natalie is now played by Keeley Karsten, Reggie is Julia Butters, and Lisa is Sophia Kopera) live for most of their childhood.  Then Burt gets another job so the family – this time minus Bennie – moves to Northern California where Sammy goes to high school.  The final move is to Southern California where Sammy gets his first job with a movie studio.

Except for when Sammy is in high school in Northern California, the movie is just about the family.  A lot of the scenes are unique events.  Probably the events that Steven Spielberg remembers the most.  The first scene of the movie is when Sammy goes to a movie theater for the first time.  He watches “The Greatest Show on Earth”.  Spielberg has said that is the movie that first inspired him to become a filmmaker.  Other (non-spoiler) events in the movie include the time a tornado approached their house – Mitzi loaded the children into the station wagon and drove towards the tornado, the time Sammy used his entire boy scout troop to film one of his first movies, the time Mitzi’s brother Boris (Judd Hirsch) visited the family and told Sammy stories about when he was an actor in Hollywood, and the time Mitzi bought a pet monkey that created havoc in the house.  

However, when the family moves to Northern California the plot suddenly changes to Sammy’s life in high school.  Apparently, the high school doesn’t have many Jewish students in it.  Two antisemitic students – Logan (San Rechner) and Chad (Oakes Fegley) – bully and mock Sammy.  Also, Sammy starts dating Monica Sherwood (Chloe East), a VERY Christian woman who wants to “breathe Jesus Christ” into Sammy in one scene.

After that, the plot returns to the family for the final moments of the movie.  There are a couple more events including when Sammy met director John Ford (played by director David Lynch).

Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, and Judd Hirsch are all very good in their roles.  However, most of the scenes – including the scenes in the high school – feel over rehearsed.  To me, it feels like a lot of the younger actors and actresses playing Sammy’s sisters and friends are trying to replicate the events the way that Spielberg remembered them.

Also, a lot of the locations and sets feel staged and somewhat fake.  Even outside locations such as when the family goes camping in the woods.  It feels like the woods were created on a soundstage, so they look exactly the same way he remembered them.  I have no idea if the scenes were filmed on location in the woods or not, but to me the movie makes it feel like it’s a set.  Also, according to an article I read, Seth Rogen said that Steven Spielberg was often crying as he remembered some of the moments filmed for the movie.

Except for the scenes in the high school – which feel like they could have been in a separate movie – the whole movie is essentially Steven Spielberg’s memories of his family when he was growing up.  It doesn’t make it a bad movie – I enjoyed several scenes in the movie – but, as I said at the start, I’m not a fan of biographical movies like this one.

I give it 6 out of 10.