“The Fabelmans:” A Masterful Remix of the Biopic Genre

In one of the 2022’s best films, Steven Spielberg indirectly (and perfectly) tells his own story.

Photo Courtesy / YouTube Universal Pictures

Biographical films, commonly known as biopics, have been the rave for audiences and award voters alike in past years; “The Theory of Everything,” “Lincoln” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” are just some of the most recent examples of this genre succeeding.

“The Fabelmans” continues this trend in emphatic fashion. The latest project from legendary director Steven Spielberg tells the story of Sammy Fabelman, a young filmmaker growing up through the sixties and seventies. The unique approach here is that Fabelman — played by newcomer Gabriel LaBelle — is based on Spielberg himself, with nearly all of the central plot paralleling that of the director’s life.

LaBelle steals the show as he conveys the emotion behind Fabelman’s hardships: his parents’ marital drama, being bullied for his religious beliefs and adjusting to new places — just to name a few. Mixed in with what many anticipate to be the point of the film, becoming a successful filmmaker, there is a lot for Spielberg to juggle in his two-and-a-half-hour runtime.

Many fail to realize that the point of “The Fabelmans” is not to tout Spielberg’s eventual breakthrough. Rather, it is to tell the story of a young man who opted to create art for the world in spite of it throwing countless obstacles at him. Much of the film’s criticism thus far appears to derive from its refusal to be a victory lap for Spielberg. It instead shows how the emotional roller coaster that was his childhood prevents such from occurring. For those in the audience who could relate to any one of Fabelman’s experiences, this was a masterful depiction that deserves far better reception.

Michelle Williams, in the role of Sammy’s mother Mitzi, has fielded enormous praise for her performance. Of the supporting cast, she is given the tallest tasks to portray and does so with near perfection. Her character can be frustrating at times, but that just exemplifies where the film excels; to have done so via tales of family dysfunction speaks volumes to Spielberg’s character development and storytelling skills. She is nominated for Best Actress at the 2023 Academy Awards, a noteworthy achievement given that the story revolves more around her character’s son rather than herself. 

Another standout is Paul Dano, who plays her husband and Sammy’s father. Dano is a perfect casting for this role, as his ability to convey emotion without speaking is fully apparent, which is crucial as the story navigates the shaky waters of the parents’ marriage. While Judd Hirsch received an Oscar nomination for his supporting role, his character’s lack of screen time leads me to feel he was undeserving of such an honor, at least compared to Dano.

Ultimately, while “The Fabelmans” avoids the professional career of Spielberg that we know so well, the art of filmmaking is still extremely prominent. There are several scenes of Sammy shooting film projects that highlight the beauty of the process. Its role as an accessory to what is essentially a coming-of-age story works to perfection, cementing “The Fabelmans” as one of my favorite films of 2022.

“The Fabelmans” has since been nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. The film won Best Motion Picture in the drama category at the Golden Globes earlier this month, solidifying its place as a clear frontrunner for Hollywood’s marquee awards show. 

Tune into the Oscars on Mar. 12 on ABC to see how the film fares.