“The Fabelmans,” March 5, 2023 (2022), DVD. Steven Spielberg directed and co-wrote – with Tony Kushner – this thoughtful, episodic semi-autobiographical look at his life-long love of cinema and his experience of familial chaos. It’s an adult look at a child’s understanding of life, love, and the cultural changes of white, middle-class, and especially, Jewish-Americans. It’s a film that seems very simple but has kept me thinking and exploring its nuances.
Sammy Fabelman (Gabrielle LaBelle) lives in America’s Golden Age. Totally swept up in the charm of cinema, he lives to watch and make films. His father Burt (Paul Dano) is computer geek on the cutting edge of early ‘50s/’60s progress and the ‘success’ in America while working for, first, RCA and then IBM. His Mom, Mitzi, the wonderful Michelle Williams, had aspirations to be a concert pianist, but those were given up for post-war marital ‘bliss’ and life in the suburbs of New Jersey, Arizona, and finally California. Burt’s best friend, the ever-joking Bennie, a surprisingly affecting Seth Rogen, is along for the ride in NJ and Arizona. And there’s part of the rub. He’s much the more simpatico match for Mitzi.
What’s a kid to do in that setting? Ignore what he ‘sees?’ Focus entirely on his filmmaking? This tension is set out with the brief appearance of Mitzi’s wild Uncle Boris (a great bit of shtick from Judd Hirsch), who clearly sees the crisis that’s brewing between art and family, art and life. And art, Sammy learns, can reveal much more than he ever knew.
The move to California, sans Uncle Bennie, brings new schools, a first contact with Antisemitism, young lust, and much more. It’s a mature look at love, loss, and coming to terms with yourself and with the complexities of life, imperfect as it is.
I really liked this one, and I’m not always enamored of Spielberg’s work. I was especially fond of John Williams musical accompaniment. See the ‘making of feature that comes on the DVD if you can catch it in that format.