Movie Review: The Fabelmans

It is a rare experience when I realize that the best part of any movie is at the very end. A young Steven Speilberg – known in this story as Sammy Fabelman, played by Gabriel LaBelle is in the office of the famous actor John Ford before his iconic directing career even started. Predictably John Ford is very rude to the 20-year-old Sammy within a scene that we all know did happen in real life. Ford had Sammy look at 2 pictures in his office. Ford rudely asked Sammy – “so where is the horizon in that picture?”. When Sammy went on to analyze the picture Ford rudely yelled, “No, No! Where is the horizon?” Sammy said, it’s at the top of the picture. In the second picture, Sammy recognized that the horizon was at the bottom. Ford then screamed at Sammy – “When the horizon is at the top or the bottom – that is interesting – in the middle – that is very BORING!” It is this simplicity and abrupt rudeness over two pictures hanging on a wall in the office of John Ford, arguably one of the greatest movie directors of all time, that for me was the very best part of this film.

The movie “The Fabelmans” is entirely about the early childhood years of Steven Speilberg and how he had no choice in life but to become one of the greatest movie directors of all time. For Sammy Fabelman, there was never any plan B. Once he was fascinated at an early age when his parents took him to see his first movie – Sammy was hooked for life. There was nothing else Sammy ever wanted to do. It started with making small movies where he would crash his train set into cars. Then he would make small horror and war movies with his friends. The most famous story I have ever heard is that Steven Speilberg broke into an abandoned Paramount Studios office and acted like he was an employed director and, was never arrested or prosecuted.

One flaw in this story is that too much time is spent on the affair that his mother Mitzi Fabelman, played very well by Michelle Willams with her husband’s best friend Bennie Loewy, played by Seth Rogan – and not enough time on Steven Speilberg’s early growth as a genius movie director. This is the main reason for the second flaw in this movie – because it is once again, too long. The Fabelmans clocked in at 2 hours and 31 minutes for a story that could have been told in 2 hours. Removing unnecessary details about Speilberg’s mother’s affair would have resulted in a better movie that was long enough and not too long. The majority of fans of Steven Speilberg will obviously go to this film to learn more about how he became a great director, not about his mother’s affair with her husband’s best friend.

The Fabelman family, included along with Sammy, 3 younger sisters who moved from New Jersey to Phoenix Arizona, eventually winding up in Los Angeles. Sammy Fabelman’s father, Burt Fabelman, played well by Paul Dano, is promoted and moves to company locations required by GE and eventually IBM, understandably causing stress on the family. This constant moving had a profound effect on Sammy’s childhood, especially when the family moved to Los Angeles where he would encounter extreme bullying and antisemitism. When it was time for Sammy to attend college, amazingly it was his extreme dislike of school that led Sammy to his huge success as a movie director, because he realized he had no other choice but to succeed in the movie industry. So often talent or ability is not enough, for something like breaking into the movie business, requires insane levels of perseverance.

Once again, I was very impressed with actress Michelle Williams who is outstanding with her portrayal of Steven Speilberg’s late mother Mitzi. Her acting in this movie just might give her another best actress nomination. Paul Dano is also very good as Speilberg’s father and Seth Rogan has one of his best acting roles playing Speilberg’s father’s best friend, Bennie Loewy. Judd Hirsh also has a small but very effective role, playing the brother of Mitzi’s mother in a performance that probably ranks as strong as his role in “Ordinary People”, 1980, and “Running on Empty”, released in 1988.

In his entire career, Steven Speilberg has made only one bad movie – 1941, released in 1979. The Fabelmans is up to the expected levels of a well-made Speilberg movie, despite the “too long” issue and too much focus on Mitzi’s affair. I mostly agree with the very high 93% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, with my rating a solid 90% and a very strong recommendation.