10 Modern Coming-of-Age Films I Like More than The Fablemans
The Fablemans (2022)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Michelle Williams, Gabriel LaBelle and Paul Dano
By Tim Basaraba
Coming of age stories have gripped filmgoers since the beginning of the medium. Oliver Twist (I) (1922)? Wow, what a tale! David Copperfield (1935)? Riveting! The Secret Garden (1949)? That’s a pretty big secret! The 400 Blows (1959)? A masterpiece! West Side Story (1961)? A genre defining great! American Graffiti (1973)? What an ensemble! Stand by Me (1986)? OMG, that cast! Dazed and Confused (1993)? Hey, these seem like real people! Superbad (2007)? So many penis drawings! Boyhood (I) (2014)? A 12-year epic! Each decade has given us coming of age films with stories that entrance and inform. Which is why I’m disappointed that Oscar Best Picture Nominee The Fablemans, from brilliant filmmaker Steven Spielberg, does not.
In the 2022 film, Spielberg avatar Gabriel LaBelle does his best to convey the restlessness and ambition of a child with so much time and money on his hands that he can make short films that are adored by relatives and classmates alike. Dad is a smart professional and mom is an unstable wild child, but this is where the conflict and tension ends in this milquetoast autobiography. Shoehorn in some vague bullying and a hint of antisemitism and these appear to be the only obstacles Spielberg had to overcome on his way to being one of the wealthiest, most revered filmmakers of all time.
Does The Fablemans look good? Of course it does. It’s gorgeous, and with 50 years to perfect his art and a 40 million budget to shoot it, it should. But the only scenes that resonated deeply with me were those featuring Michelle Williams as Spielberg’s beautifully-loving but slightly off kilter mother. Visually, the use of light was impressive and served as a testament to the skill of the director and his choice of cinematographer, two-time Oscar Winner Janusz Kaminski. One scene in particular frames Williams in an almost goddess-like stature as she dances freely, unleashing her inner wild child in front of the entire family.
Having given us so many iconic, genre-defining films like Jaws (1975), Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Jurassic Park (1993), Schindler’s List (1992), Private Ryan (1998), and the under-appreciated A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), perhaps the message Spielberg needed to hear was simply this: “just because a story is about you doesn’t mean it’s interesting.” I don’t fault him for making it, but ultimately it plays like a beautifully shot 2-hour after school special about the horrors of being called “Bagleman” instead of “Fableman.”
If you love Spielberg, which we all do, make sure you’ve seen all of his previous films before you spend time on The Fablemans. If you’re after a modern coming-of-age story, here are 10 that probably had less than a $40 million budget combined that are more worthy of your time. They are listed in chronological order beginning with the most recent:
· Waves (2019) – The story of an affluent African American family in crisis.
· Booksmart (2019) – Basically Superbad 2.0, but with girls.
· Mid 90’s (2018) – A 13-year-old boy begins spending time with a mostly older group of skateboarders in 1990s Los Angeles.
· 8th Grade (2018) – A quiet film about being in the 8th grade and trying to gain social acceptance through social media.
· The Florida Project (2017) – The story of a young mother and daughter’s struggle for survival against the backdrop of “The Happiest Place on Earth.”
· Call Me By Your Name (2017) – A chronicle of the romantic relationship between a 17-year-old and a 24-year-old graduate-student assistant to the boy’s father, an archaeology professor.
· Lady Bird (2017) – The story of a high school senior and her strained relationship with her mother.
· Moonlight (2016) – A personal look at the childhood, adolescence, and early adult life of a man in the American south.
· Raw (2016) – A film about arriving at college and all the anxiety it causes, framed as a horror flick.
· It Follows (2014) – A young woman is pursued by a supernatural entity after a sexual encounter and must have sex with another individual to avoid it.
While The Fablemans clearly isn’t one of my favorite Spielberg films or one of the best films I saw in 2022, it still gets a B rating from me thanks Judd to Hirsch’s fantastic motivational speech as Uncle Boris. Don’t rush to see this before your 2023 Oscars party, but dial it up on streaming after you’ve revisited the rest of this great director’s catalog.
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