Author: Mark Kennedy | Related press
A film by one of Hollywood’s most successful directors, based on his early life, begins in the cinema and ends in the cinema, respectively.
“Fabelmans” is clearly a very personal film by Steven Spielberg and is as much a journey into adolescence as it is a form of expensive therapy with John Williams offering wonderful romantic music.
The script – Spielberg works with playwright Tony Kushner again – portrays both the first 20 years of fledgling director Sammy Fabelman and the cracks appearing in his parents’ painful marriage. The fire sometimes blurs a bit, to be honest, and the whole thing often doesn’t do much.
For a director’s film about a director, the main character is surprisingly thick-skinned. We meet the scared Sammy Fabelman for the first time in front of a New Jersey cinema playing the 1952 classic by Cecil B. DeMille “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Suddenly he’s too scared to see his first movie.
“Movies are dreams you’ll never forget,” says his mother, a frustrated concert pianist played by Michelle Williams, as she tries to talk him into it. “Dreams are terrifying,” she replies.
This movie – with a terrible train crash that injures the boy – changes Fabelman forever. For the next decades, filmmaking was his passion, even though his engineer father regarded it as a mere hobby. We’ve been told why Sammy needs to be in charge may have something to do with his desire to be in control. But that’s only what we get on the couch with him.
We then skip back in time to teenage Sammy, who moves with his family to Arizona and dumps all of his Boy Scout buddies in a makeshift western inspired by John Ford’s film “The Man Who Shooted Liberty Valance.” The Same Sam is played with genuine sincerity by Gabriel LaBelle and transformed him into a sweet star-making vehicle.
Meanwhile, overkill Williams, a mom who is a bit rude, sometimes goofy and sometimes downright dangerous, like when she tornadoes all four of her children into the spotlight has come into the spotlight. You can leave the theater knowing as much about what is happening to her as when you arrived. “You really see me,” he says at one point to his son, but the rest of us don’t really.
We learn that not everything is goofy at home and maybe something is going on between mom, dad (extremely stiff Paul Dano) and dad’s best friend (really good Seth Rogen). The audience will not be surprised when this is revealed. And the way our hero understands this is purely cinematic – he sees clues in his own home movies. And he confronts the offending side as soon as the author – instead of speaking, he shows the edited film.
Fabelmans gets the energy it needs when Judd Hirsch shows up as a distant uncle who used to be at the circus. He immediately sees in his nephew a comradely artistic spirit who will have to choose between his family and his art, as his mother did. “It will tear your heart out and leave you alone. Art is not a game. Art is as dangerous as a lion’s mouth, ”his uncle tells him. “We are drug addicts and art is our drug.”
The Big Wet Valentine for filming “Fabelmans” is part of the latest wave of directors looking back, including “Bardo” by Alejandro Iñárritu, “Aftersun” by Charlotte Wells, “Belfast” by Kenneth Branagh and “Time of Armageddon” by James Gray. And Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical “Almost Famous” about growing up has just landed on Broadway in musical form.
Many of these projects seem to passionately argue for the healing and communal power of art through teaching converts. And they often do it with such fondness and respect that it gets too strong. They get high on their own supply.
In the third act of “The Fabelman,” the Spielberg family – sorry Fabelman – moves again, this time to California, and the film goes in a different direction, with an unlikely romance in the midst of anti-Semitism realities culminating in a lesson about the power of film to create a picture. But it connects with the rest of the film’s heightened manners, the artificiality of its supposed crazy humor and its tendency to create small arias of theatrical speeches.
The film ends with a warning to the young filmmaker from no less than the great director John Ford (David Lynch’s hysterical cameo). “This business will tear you apart,” he growls. And yet Fabelman is delighted with the contact with his hero and does not listen. After all, he’s a junkie. But those of us unsuccessful Hollywood directors might like it when she points the camera at things other than ourselves.
2 stars out of 4
Rating: PG-13 (for strong language, thematic elements, short-term violence and drug use)
Duration: 151 minutes
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