I don’t know what I thought. Though it had its moments, this is a film you will tolerate more than embrace.
How could a film directed by Steven Spielberg not have you sitting on the edge of your seat? Think of 1941 (1979), Catch Me If You Can (2002), Amistad (1997), A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), Jurassic Park (1993), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Schindler’s List (1993), Jaws (1975) and Saving Private Ryan (1998) to name a few.
But The Fabelmans lacked the emotional force of those films. Here Spielberg tells the story of his childhood and teenage years where he fell in love with making movie pictures in the 1970-80s. In the process, I could only imagine if I wanted all of you to attend a lecture where I pointed out Inherit the Wind (1960) and To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) as two films that inspired me to be a criminal defense lawyer. I’d anticipate a small crowd!
I do want to point out that the film had some great moments lost in its 2-hour, 31-minute length. As you watched the Fabelman family move from New Jersey and Arizona before landing in California, Jewish prejudice is on full display. It served as a powerful reminder that the hatred of Jews didn’t die with Hitler. Think of Kanye West today.
In addition, there were some fine performances that will likely garner some Oscar consideration. While Paul Dano and Gabriel LaBelle do a fine job playing father Fabelman and his son Sammy, Michelle William is unforgettable as the mother. She has given up being a concert pianist to raise her children and she likely will be knocking on Oscar’s door.
I must also mention the brief appearances of Judd Hirsch and David Lynch. Hirsch plays Uncle Boris and his brief visit to the Fabelman’s house is hysterical. Lynch appears at the end of the film as the legendary film Director John Ford. His devotion to cigars rivals his film production.
Finally, I can’t end this review without commenting on Seth Rogen’s regrettable role as Dano’s old friend and business associate Bennie Loewy. Yes, he was funny at times but his dalliance with mother Fabelman led to their divorce.
Listen, I have no doubt that this film will be in the Oscar mix for Best Picture. But quite frankly, that is regrettable. While critics will rave over it much as they did Tar and The Banshees of Inisherin, there is a reason that they had monstrously low attendance numbers.
I really wanted to like this movie. While I continue to wrestle with my reaction, let me know your thoughts if you hunt it down.