Art / Opinion / World

I Saw “The Fabelmans” in the House that Steven Built By Accident

There’s a big old multiplex near my school that is falling apart. It sits in Belmar, an artificial “culture” district designed to give the illusion of a bustling city in the middle of suburbia. They sucked every ounce of excitement out of a pedestrian mall and gave it an ego. I bet it has a force field around it that vaporizes homeless people. 

This particular mall has a theater that is trying very hard to look prestigious, but the illusion is dashed by only half of the signage lighting up. I prefer smaller venues and only stepped foot in this building because I wanted to see Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans and the 10:00 showtime they offered was the only one I could find after 7:00. I like to be out late. If you go see a movie at 7:00 you will need to find something to do with yourself for two hours afterwards unless you saw Fanny and Alexander or something. 

I must be the only person in west Denver with this mentality because there was nobody else in the theater. I think the people paid to clean the carpet outnumbered the people who paid to get in. Despite this it took me 10 minutes to buy a ticket, visit the concession stand and carry out my pre-show ritual in the men’s room. Half of the urinals have been shrouded in plastic for months. Good. I personally do not care about being serviced poorly by underpaid teenagers, but the sort of people who enjoy Belmar do. Let these 14-screen least-common-denominator theaters crumble. They only exist to inflate the grosses of the grossest blockbusting belches Disney’s stewed up anyhow. 

Coincidentally the man who has done the most to build these soulless behemoths is the same Mr. Spielberg whose film I went to see. I do not pin that on him though. He made like seven masterpieces in 30 years and the Hollywood suits saw only how much money they made. (Is there any easier indicator of a person’s insipidity than “business major”?) 

Anyways, The Fabelmans. It’s Steve’s life story but the names are changed and apparently it’s pretty truthful, although I will note that several of his high school classmates have come out of the woodwork 50 years after the events of the film to call b.s. on Steve having a girlfriend back then. Dude made Raiders of the Lost Ark and still has haters saying “you had no rizz.” Hilarious. 

Michelle Williams and Paul Dano play Mommy and Daddy Spielberg Fabelman and both are alright, but Michelle is better. You rarely see Paul Dano get outacted like that. He’s not at his best here but it’s fine, I guess. 

The emotional center of the thing worked OK for me. Some of it is that banal familial strife stuff that you see in half the flicks ever made, but Steve got me once or twice. I also have a robotic father. I remember the way my mom cried when grandma passed. I don’t have a Jewish uncle who used to be in the circus, but he was a fun character and anyway the movie is not about me. 

I have noticed one problem with some of Steve’s movies: they often have a cap on their emotional depth set at the level of “high school graduate.” This is not altogether bad and in fact works to marvelous effect in many of Steve’s iconic capers such as E.T. and Jurassic Park, but not so well in Bridge of Spies and The Fabelmans because those movies are not about people being eaten by dinosaurs. 

I think Fabelmans works best when Sammy (AKA young Steven) is making movies. That stuff is tons of fun. I was giddy when Sammy explained how he made the special effects for his WWII short. There’s also an excellent dialogue-free scene where Sammy cuts together some camping trip footage and makes a discovery. It reminded me of Blow-Up. Not quite as good as Blow-Up (or Blow-Out) but still effective. 

Like everyone else I also got a kick outta the “greatest director to ever live” scene. Great stinger. I’m not sure how well it works with the movie’s themes, but it sure was a fun bit of cinema. 

Overall this thing is a bit inconsistent and nowhere near Spielberg’s best, but I enjoyed myself and walked out of that rotting theater feeling better than when I walked in. It’s a really good swan song for Steve. Real nice bookend. Too bad he’s doing a Bullitt remake next year. Leave the remakes to James Mangold, Steve! Bow out with a story that nobody else could tell.

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