Friday, March 24, 2023

movie review: The Fabelmans

This was the only Oscar-nominated movie this year that I hadn't already seen but had an interest in seeing. Now that I have, I'm almost sorry I bothered. I didn't find it a very coherent story, nor much of an enjoyable viewing experience, which is one thing that a movie - which is after all a voluntary aesthetic encounter - must be.

Assuming that the story as presented is pretty much an accurate depiction of Spielberg's early life - which everything I've read about it indicates that it is (despite the title: fable-man, get it?) - than the problem seems to have been Spielberg's decision not to tell a focused story of how he decided to become a movie-maker, but to present a collection of Issues of His Childhood. This being real life, the various issues don't necessarily interact meaningfully, and he didn't make them do so in the movie.

There's three major issues: 1) his interest in making movies, 2) his mother's affair and his parents' divorce, 3) the anti-Semitism he encounters in high school. #1 makes him happy, #2 and #3 make him depressed. He takes #2 out on himself by quitting #1. But there's no interior view of what's going on in his mind: is he just too depressed to go on, has he actually lost interest, or is he flagellating himself by denying himself this thing he loves? No way to tell. He deals with #3 by making a school outing documentary which exalts one of the two bullies tormenting him at the expense of the other one, but why he does this is not clear, even when he's specifically asked. The fact that I found it difficult to distinguish the two bullies from each other made this part even harder to follow.

There's very little showing what interests him about movies or how he goes about making them. His direction to the young actor playing the sergeant in his war movie, and his revelation to his father that he's making gunshots by pricking physical holes in the film stock are about the only things. This is annoying because he's shown as developing an almost professional-level skill while still in school. Where'd he get this from? If he'd been shown seeing John Ford movies in his early life, or taking an interest in framing in his filmmaking, that would at least have given the final scene some context and made it a reward to the viewer, instead of having it weirdly stick out in the air.

The most frustrating scene for me was Sam's meeting with Claudia, Logan's girlfriend. I kept wishing for him to have said something like this: "Logan told me to tell you that I was lying when I said I saw him kissing another girl, and he enforced this instruction with his fist. So I want you to tell him that I said I was lying. Whether you actually believe I was lying, that's up to you."

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