Coming to theatres this Thanksgiving from writer/director Steven Spielberg, Amblin Entertainment and Universal Pictures comes the tender story of THE FABELMANS.
Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano) and his wife Mitizi (Michelle Williams) are about to introduce their son Sam (Mateo Francis-DeFord) to his first movie, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH. Watching in a crowded theatre, his attention is captivated during the circus train crash. Now, the young boy is wanting only one thing – a train set.
Wishing for a train set for Hannukah, Sam takes it one step further when mom Mitzi puts an 8 mm camera into his hands. What comes from all of this is a young boy’s dream coming true. He can not stop himself from creating more and more stories on film with his sisters Reggie (Birdie Borria), Natalie (Alina Brace) and Lisa (Sophia Kopera) as his actors.
The family gets together with family friend Bennie Loewy (Seth Rogen) and it is movie night. That is until the family moves to Phoenix, Arizona as dad Burt moves up in the technology world. Growing up, Sam (Gabriel LaBelle) never stops making films and while in Boy Scouts uses the opportunity to make his own film to get a badge.
When a family tragedy happens, Burt asks his son to put together something lovely for mom to bring her some joy. Uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch) comes to visit and tells Sam that he comes from a family of artists and what that can do to a person but it also those words leave a lasting impression. So much so, that Sam discovers something about his mom that he cannot deal with in the right way.
Once again, the family moves to norther California and Sam has lost the urge to create and puts his camera down. Focusing on school, a new challenge happens as antisemitism reaches into his life. Through harassment and bullying, Sam learns that he must take a stand in some way and with the help of girlfriend Monica (Chloe East) and a 16mm camera, he takes on a high school event to present at prom.
Now ready for college, the family dynamic has changed and Sam must face his father with what he wants for life. After years of dad calling his filmmaking a ‘hobby’, the young man finally says the words to make his father understand that everything has led up to that moment.
These are the Fabelmans!
Williams as Mitzi is a complex, complicated and very supportive wife which keep the family moving forward. That comes with the flaws of being a woman in 1952 and the stereotypes of keeping a perfect house with perfect kids and a perfect marriage. All of that comes with a price and William’s portrayal for Mitzi shows us that the cost is so personally destructive. Once again, this actress gives a performance that will make the list of awards but more importantly, leaves an impression for the viewer that is shaken and stirred.
Dano as Burt is a father trying to get ahead in the business world creating, supporting a family and making everyone happy. He is also set in the 50s stereotype that he does not realize affects his son. Dad wants a studious kid who will one day follow in his footsteps and although supportive, in a way, of his son, he continues to consider it only a ‘hobby’. Dano gives Burt that struggle of a man who has one idea of family in his head while the reality of family is passing him by. Dano is stunning!
LaBelle as Sam is nothing short of fantastic. He also lives in this world created by the times he lives but does not quite fit into the mold everything thinks he should. While excited about the prospect of making film and supported by his mother, he runs into those who can not embrace the prospect of filmmaking as a career. There are such beautiful moments that LaBelle provides in his role of Sam that are touching and heartbreaking all at the same time. We follow his life of creativity and growing pains willingly because the viewer also wants him to succeed. That is acting at its finest and well-done LaBelle!
Rogen as Bennie is Burt’s best friend and basically an uncle to the kids. They share everything together and it is all beautiful, until it isn’t. Rogen is equally into his work as Burt and also shares his total support of Sam and his filmmaking showing up for every showing. Rogen keeps his character a bit on the back burner of the Fabelman family. The scene between Bennie and Sam at the camera store is so heartbreaking to watch, trust me on this.
Shout out to Mateo Francis-DeFord as the young Sam because here is a young actor who just melted my heart. I know that feeling of being in a theatre for the first time and worrying about everything being so big when you are so little. My first film was BAMBI, and my ‘train scene’ was the death of Bambi’s mother and while everyone else around me was crushed and crying, I was riveted. Francis-DeFord took me there once again and that, for me, is priceless so thank you young man and extremely well done.
Other cast include Robin Bartlett as Tina Schildkraut, Sam Rechner as Logan Hall, Oakes Fegley as Chad Thomas, Isabelle Kusman as Claudia Denning, Jan Hoag as Nona, Nicolas Cantu as Hark, Cooper Dodson as Turkey, Gabriel Bateman as Roger, Lane Factor as Dean, Chandler Lovelle as Renee, Keeley Karsten as the older Natalie Fabelman, Julia Butters as the older Reggie Fabelman, Jeannie Berlin as Hadassah Fabelman and David Lynch as John Ford.
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has just added an amazing film to their library and making it available for us to all experience and re-experience in our own home theaters. There are films of every genre available from scary to drama to family films. For more of what they have to offer please visit www.uphe.com.
THE FABELMANS is written by Steven Spielberg with co-writer Tony Kushner who has written with the Oscar winner on the 2005 film MUNICH, the 2012 film LINCOLN and the 2021 WEST SIDE STORY.
On the recreating of his early works, Spielberg says, “It was joyful being able to recreate those films. I shot a lot of films when I was a kid on 8mm. It was unique in those days. Not a lot of people were going out and shooting in 8mm. It was physical; it was a craft. You had to sit there with a splicer, and then you had to scrape the emulsion off the film in order to get a seal so when you put glue on it, you literally glued the film together. I must say, I miss it.”
Being semi-autobiographical, it really is not something I concentrated on watching the film. Instead, I let the story tell me what it wanted to tell me in any way it wanted to present itself. Fact or fiction did not mean anything because THE FABELMANS swept me up in a story of family, love, secrets, perceptions, realities, sadness, fun and possibilities. These are all things that are relatable no matter who you are.
The cast is one of the best I have seen in a long time and with even the short stint for Hirsch, he was just so lovely to watch as a man who knows the pain of creativity! He sees what Sam is reaching for and although supports it, slaps on a warning label as well. Each character is memorable and unique to the journey we are all invited on.
For some it will be a look into the past of how the world perceived the role over mother, father, husband, wife and expectations of kids. Spielberg is doing what he does the best taking us from point A to Z with a box of tissue in-between, the dude is beautifully exhausting.
In the end – capture every moment!