The Fabelmans

The Fabelmans ★★

Spielberg disguising his hackwork as his most deeply personal story (à la Branagh’s Belfast), The Fabelmans reshapes a populist filmmaker’s origins into an archetypal coming-of-age story in a manner that, to risk being reductive, plays like cutting crusts off his sandwiches. Outside of bludgeoning the audience to death with its core themes (expounded upon in embarrassing and gratingly on-the-nose speeches written by Tony Kushner with Oscar acting reels in mind), the film retains such emotional distance from the reality of his characters that they resemble either figments or cartoons, scene to scene, and move the film’s reflections on sacrifice, self-possession, and the cinema as a means of seeing oneself into a vague yet on-the-nose space — i.e, one too emotionally bald and narratively nebulous to be of use. No one gets to be a real character here, so much as a delivery system for one earnest truism after another. Kiddie gloves and training wheels. To compare with James Gray’s Armageddon Time, a film whose reminiscence is pressured by and fractured under forces of recollected emotional experience and larger, looming historical consciousness, Spielberg’s film is similarly riven by memory but fractured instead by his magnanimous sentiment, even the golden-hued hindsight of nostalgia, and a larger, looming cultural self-consciousness. Both are sincere, but the latter connotes a more self-absorbed style of mythmaking.

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