The Fabelmans Review


As of this writing, we are one month away from the 95th Academy Awards, and now that I have seen The Fabelmans, I have seen seven of the ten Best Picture nominees. For reference, I have decided to go back a few years and see how I’ve compared!

For the 94th edition of the awards, I STILL have not seen a single one of them! I’d like to see CODA, but… Apple TV. Who has that? Well, a lot of people based on Ted Lasso’s popularity, I guess. But not me. I want to see Aftersun, too. How much is Apple TV again?

Of the 93rd annual offering? Just one: Promising Young Woman.

Now the 92nd Oscars were better, with my having seen a whopping four of the nominees! And then to speed this up a bit, I have seen two from the 91st, two from the 90th, one from the 89th, one from the 88th, and none of the 87th annual nominees. And then I quit looking because I knew most of the rest of the 2010’s weren’t going to get much better.

So I’m not sure if 2022 was just an extraordinarily accessible year for Best Picture nominees, or if I just personally care more since it’s from the year I pushed myself to watch so many movies.

Regardless, I got around to Stephen Spielberg’s newest outing, The Fabelmans, his maybe-a-little-more-than-semi semiautobiographical tale of growing up falling in love with film and deciding to become involved in the moving pictures business. At least, that is how the movie is sold. And it’s not NOT that, but the journey of Stephen’s avatar (Sammy Fabelman) into show biz is not really the main story here.

The real arc is that of the collapse of Sammy’s vision of his perfect homelife and family being destroyed, and the complicated relationships it forced him into with his mother and father. Sammy’s mother, Mitzi, has been carrying on an affair for who-knows-how-long with his father’s (Burt’s) best friend, Benny. In the movie, Sammy figures this out while cutting together footage he shot of a family vacation in roughly the second act, though the audience has had the relationship all-but-confirmed until that point. The movie constantly clues the viewer in, leaving us waiting for the moment the characters find out.

The ensuing devastation sparks yet another move for the family, as well as Sammy’s disenchantment from his own passion. In his new school, he falls victim to some rather uncomfortable bullying for being Jewish, adding a third act wrinkle to the story. He isn’t just navigating finding his voice and falling out with his mother; he’s trying to survive in a high school filled with giants (maybe this one is on me looking too hard, but I laughed at the notion that all the California high school kids were much bigger than the ones Sammy knew from Arizona… as if it was a sly reference to how Hollywood has historically cast “high school age” characters).

Sammy finds a girlfriend–the Jesus-obsessed Christian, Monica–and in the most joyfully fun scene in the movie, ends up making out with her as she tries to get him to pray with her. She is breathing Jesus into him, you see? All a few moments after she delivers the line “Jesus is sexy”, and damn it, now I want to watch Hamlet 2 again.

In the end, Sammy loses Monica (when the shadow of his parents’ impending rupture causes him panic), makes peace with his bully, splits time between his parents’ new residences… and finally gets his foot in the door in the entertainment business.

Ah, but I’d be remiss to not call out a particularly fantastic small scene in the first act starring Judd Hirsch as Sammy’s estranged uncle. The visit from Uncle Boris is forced (with a particularly strange set up of Mitzi receiving a phone call from her deceased mother warning her not to let Boris into their house), but it is a pivotal moment in Sammy’s journey. And Hirsch just nails every aspect of it.


+Michelle Williams is a tornado of energy here, and you are constantly wondering from what she is suffering. This movie is set in the 50’s and 60’s after all, and mental illness was not nearly as recognized then as it is now. And while the viewer can tell that Mitzi is struggling with… SOMETHING… she never gets much more than a “I started seeing a therapist” regarding it. It makes you feel bad for her. Williams’ portrayal sets up Mitzi as a brilliantly flawed individual. She is so unlikable at times, but at others is such a motivating and charming individual that you can’t help but want the best for her. Being based on a real person who the director knew so intimately obviously helps a great deal, but Michelle Williams makes Mitzi flesh-and-blood real from beginning to end.

Her chemistry with Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy is tremendous, also. The two of them feel like they’ve been in each others’ lives forever. In a year full of deserving Best Actress nominees, she is right up there with Cate Blanchett and Michelle Yeoh in a very tight competition for who should win.

+Stephen Spielberg, man. Because of him, this works. This is HIS story, so obviously he cares deeply for it. And because it’s Spielberg, it is marvelous by every technical measure. The movie is also enjoyable! The characters are vibrant and the stakes are relatable. Almost all of us have had some level of familial strife. Even more of us have had problems fitting in in school. And if you don’t come out of this movie thinking about whether you truly ever followed your passion or just went the route of doing what you felt you had to, what were you even watching?

-The climax of the movie felt almost disingenuous after everything that came before it. At his prom, Sammy shows footage of a senior skip beach day, wherein he makes one of his bullies out to be a golden god hero of the school, and another out to be a low-life loser. He also loses Monica by asking her to give up on college and move to Hollywood with him.

The more heroic of the two bullies (Logan) gets back together with his girlfriend (who Sammy got to break up with him by revealing he was cheating on her). And then Sammy and Logan have a weird private moment in the hallway where they argue over why Sammy did what he did. Logan breaks down in tears, clearly having a backstory we aren’t privy to, then beats the crap out of the other bully to save Sammy. Logan and Sammy part ways with by giving each other the middle finger in a sign of respect that felt like it came out of The Breakfast Club instead of this movie.

This isn’t the END of the movie, but it’s clearly the emotional climax, and it left me feeling… I am not sure. It all seemed so out of place, and for the first time, I started questioning the film’s run time.

Julia Butters as Sammy’s sister Reggie is always on the verge of feeling important here, but then never crosses the threshold. This down is not on her as an actress but more in how the movie let her and the Reggie character down. Of Sammy’s three sisters, she’s clearly–but also somehow barely–the most relevant. And yet, I was constantly wondering… what is her story? It’s a 150+ minute movie; there’s no reason for there to be any character for whom I am frustrated with a lack of development, but… here we are.


7. Elvis – This movie simply should not be nominated here, and it’s bewildering to me that it is. It’s not particularly outstanding in any way other than MAYBE Austin Butler’s performance, but even that I find to be a tad overhyped this year. The rest of this was clumsy.

6. Tar – Unquestionably better, more well-made, and more entertaining than Elvis, but this is another one-performance movie (Cate Blanchett). I’d much rather have seen The Whale (another movie buoyed by a phenomenal lead) get a Best Picture look than either Elvis or Tar.

4(t). The Fabelmans

4(t). All Quiet On The Western Front – I’m torn between these two. I found The Fabelmans to be more engaging and interesting. But All Quiet was probably better made. Both had third act woes, but were strong films aside from that.

2(t). Top Gun: Maverick

2(t). Bansees Of Inisherin – Another two I can’t quite decide where to place regarding each other. It’s one of those weird “As a MOVIE, I prefer Maverick; as a BEST PICTURE WINNER, I’d prefer Banshees” situations that probably only makes sense in my head. I will say there is a sizable gap for me between these two and the four beneath them. Not that The Fablemans and All Quiet weren’t truly good, but I don’t have them on the same level as these two.

And my personal favorite: Everything Everywhere All At Once – The only movie from 2022 I’d put over EEAAO is RRR, which did not secure a nomination because there is no god. Everything Everywhere is imaginative, heartfelt, funny, poignant, and action-packed. It’s a total package of a movie.


At no point during The Fabelmans was I bored or getting less than what I wanted. Is this top-tier Spielberg? Probably not. It might be higher in his all-time filmography according to me than most others, though. It’s something that was clearly important to the famous director, though, and he handled it as such. I do wish the final half hour or so felt more earned (or powerful or sensible or SOMETHING), but the acting from basically everyone on board makes up for that flaw.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s