The tagline of Superman was “You’ll believe a man can fly” The tagline of this film should have been “You’ll almost believe that Michelle Williams is Jewish.”
But she did a great job regardless. Sometimes you have to cast someone who doesn’t fit the role ethnically if you think they can give a great performance anyway. The Fabelmans is very similar to Armageddon Time, which is also well worth seeing but didn’t make the list. I spent that whole movie thinking “I just can’t buy Anthony Hopkins as a Jewish grandfather.” What can I say, I’m a gatekeeper.
Others can confirm that I have said out loud at various times over the last thirty years, “I’ll be interested in Stephen Spielberg again when he makes a movie about a Jewish kid in Arizona dealing with his parents’ divorce.” What I meant by that was that there was a profound phoniness about Spielberg’s movies post 80s. He wasn’t putting enough of himself into them. Some were pretty good. Lincoln mostly worked but even that had some profoundly phony moments, with sappy music swelling and dappled light filtering into the Capitol.
So now Spielberg has finally made that personal movie I always wanted him to make. Did it have any phony moments? Yes, but just a few, such as when his sister tells him what’s really wrong with him, which played as poorly as those moments always play. Other than that, this movie felt very genuine. Hard lived and hard-earned.
Of course, as with the next two movies on the list, this movie did suffer from a problem the Onion identified with this year’s movies. It felt like the movie was wrapping up after the divorce, but then it started ramping up again and Betsy and I realized, as we had with so many other movies this year, Holy shit, there’s 50 minutes left. It’s starting to feel like the standard running time for all movies now (blockbuster or art film) is 150 minutes, but they haven’t learned how to pace them appropriate so they don’t feel like they’re ending an hour earlier.
Okay, I’ve done more criticizing than praising here, but it really is a very good movie (that eventually justifies its length.) It’s profound in parts and very funny in others (and sometimes both.) Beginning with the train crash and then the need to recreate it is great. The mom driving her kids to go see the tornado is a great example of a “This must have really happened” scene. Go see it.