*Warning: the following review of The Fabelmans contains mild spoilers*
There isn’t a more satisfying moment in any movie I’ve seen this year than the climax of Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans. In a moment of pure clarity, Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) takes down his high school bullies (Oakes Fegley and Sam Rechner) through the power of moviemaking. The pure catharsis you will get from seeing Sammy exact his revenge by simply painting one of them as an unstoppable force who can “fly” will make you cheer harder than when Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield showed up in Spider-Man: No Way Home.
That moment encapsulated the crux of The Fabelmans, which was explained at the very beginning by Mitzi Fabelman (Michelle Williams) to a young Sammy (Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord) that “Movies are dreams that you never forget.” Seeing himself on screen as a God has psychologically changed the way Logan (Rechner) looks at Sammy, flawlessly executing his masterpiece for the world to see. In contrast, the bullies see through the cuts, the slow-motion, and the frames of his ultra-athletic body dominating the high school’s “Ditch Day.” For Logan, it’s a dream (or, in this case, a nightmare) that he will never forget.
The Fabelmans Official Trailer
The Fabelmans Shows The Importance of Movies
A film is also one of the most powerful weapons ever created, and Spielberg showcases it through moments of raw, emotional power throughout The Fabelmans. At first, the movie is a rather conventional coming-of-age tale, letting us observe how Sammy’s love for cinema began at Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show On Earth screening. But then it morphs into something exceptional and never recovers in conventionality for the better. Then, during a scene where Sammy edits their family’s camping trip, the film changes and becomes a profoundly life-affirming and cathartic work.
Rarely has a mainstream filmmaker (let alone the greatest mainstream filmmaker of all time) opened himself up like this for the world to see and isn’t afraid of letting it all out. Spielberg shows how movies can be an engine for us to function in the world and, more importantly, how we can perceive new realities through the lens of one camera. What’s more impressive is how Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography shows how Sammy sees the world.
He perceives it differently than regular humans, especially his father (Paul Dano), who thinks of moviemaking as a “hobby” rather than anything else and pushes him to live a “normal” life. At the same time, his mother and “uncle” (Seth Rogen) encourage his creativity.
Sammy looks at everyday objects like a perforated sheet of paper. He immediately sees something different than anyone else and has the “eureka!” moment that if he perforates film stock, he could create the gunshot effect he needs for his Western. Kaminski’s cinematography represents all kinds of “eureka!” moments brilliantly juxtaposed through Michael Kahn and Sarah Broshar’s terrific editing, visually representing many elements of the story that cannot be conveyed through acting.
The editing does most of the heavy lifting during the scene where Sammy edits his camping film or when he takes down the bullies. Sammy has the last laugh and proves to every single naysayer that he is better than all, who will likely amount to absolutely nothing and stay miserable forever.
It’s a visual masterpiece and the perfect encapsulation of what Spielberg has amounted to as one of the great moviemaking geniuses, having a clear-cut vision for how he wants his life to be painted on the screen. He paints Sammy as a tortured yet brilliant soul who is past wanting to get approval from his peers and seeks to capture the world through his eyes. It’s a devastating feat, but one Spielberg directs The Fabelmans with impeccable grace, deftly balancing heart, humor, and big, emotional swells through John Williams’ subtle but impactful music, Kaminski’s always dazzling cinematography, and excellent performances from its stars.
Michelle Williams, Paul Dano and David Lynch Steal the Show
I am still determining what Universal was thinking by not putting Michelle Williams in the Best Supporting Actress category for awards consideration. She will not get nominated in the lead category alongside Danielle Deadwyler, Cate Blanchett, and Michelle Yeoh, the three frontrunners. Williams gives the best performance of her career as Mitzi, full of joy at first at seeing her son’s eyes beam in awe as he looks at a screen for the first time, but emotionally devastating near the end.
The scene where she watches the parts Sammy edited out of his camping trip film is the peak of her performance and a fantastic showcase of her singular talent. She shares excellent chemistry with Paul Dano in an against-type performance that shows how versatile an actor he is.
Gabriel LaBelle is also magnifying to watch as Sammy Fabelman, the perfect encapsulation of who Steven Spielberg wants us to believe he was as a kid. But minor roles from Judd Hirsch and David Lynch are the true show-stealers of the picture. I kid you not, but Lynch plays the most important character in The Fabelmans and appears during its tail end, giving the biggest cinema lesson to Sammy and, most importantly, the audience.
Those who say The Fabelmans is a love letter to movies are missing the point. It’s not a love letter to movies and the art of moviemaking, and that’s a good thing. Instead, it’s Spielberg at his most personal and vulnerable, showing us a side we’ve never seen before from the filmmaker, representing himself in Sammy Fabelman. He doesn’t see movies as an art or as “dreams that you never forget,” but as a weapon more powerful than a sword, able to convey everything we feel inside through a universal language.
The movies can unite everyone over the same roof to stare at a screen, hoping to laugh, cry, and maybe learn a thing or two about life. There isn’t an art form more potent than the movies, and there isn’t a filmmaker who does it the way Steven Spielberg has done for the past fifty-one years.
I give The Fabelmans 5/5
The Fabelmans is now playing in theaters. What did you think of The Fabelmans? Is Steven Spielberg the greatest filmmaker of all time? Do you already have your tickets? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to follow us on social media!