Thursday 26 January 2023

Film Review: The Fabelmans (dir. Steven Spielberg, 2022)


With the blessed exception of Charlotte Wells' Aftersun, the spate of "personal" projects produced by filmmakers recently (perhaps a result of lockdown introspection) have been disappointing affairs: strangely bogus and superficial in feel. In general, the more high-profile the filmmaker, the worse the result, and Steven Spielberg's The Fabelmans - a lightly fictionalised account of the director's cine-struck youth, experiences of anti-Semitism and his parents' troubled marriage - is one of the weakest of the bunch. 

The widespread critical acclaim for The Fabelmans - "the movie we've been waiting 45 years for Spielberg to make," claims Rolling Stone, madly - seems more to do with sentimental affection for the director and a vogue for personal "revelation" from celebrities - no matter how familiar, as is the case with much of the stale material that Spielberg and Tony Kushner recycle here.  

What goes wrong with The Fabelmans ranges from its look - Janusz Kaminski's would-be warm but artificial and sickly cinematography - to its obvious, strained writing (with the exception of Lincoln, Spielberg and Kushner don't bring out the best in each other as collaborators, and they really don't here) to some painfully unshaped performances (the usually-great Michelle Williams, already undone by a terrible haircut and overdoing every reaction and gesture as the wayward matriarch). 

Apart from a few small moments, The Fabelmans offers the non-Spielberg acolyte viewer little - so little that the cinephile-pleasing  concluding cameo (in a dramatisation of an anecdote Spielberg has told many times before) has been treated as if it was something special indeed. Watching the movie, I kept thinking back to other, much better films that it occasionally evokes, and wishing that some of the humour and feeling of Woody Allen's Radio Days (1986) or Barry Levinson's Avalon (1990) were evident in the over-extended vanity project that Spielberg delivers here. 

The Fabelmans opens in UK cinemas tomorrow.

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