With four Academy Award nominations under her belt, Michelle Williams has established herself as one of Hollywood’s most versatile and accomplished actresses. From her powerful performance as Cindy in 2010’s Blue Valentine to her heart-wrenching role in 2016’s Manchester By the Sea, Williams — ever the chameleon — has taken on roles that have impressed both audiences and critics alike. Her newest project, Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, is no different.
Drawing inspiration from Spielberg’s own upbringing, this semi-autobiographical film tells the story of Sammy Fabelman (played by newcomer Gabriel LaBelle), a young Jewish boy who falls in love with movies after his parents take him to his first-ever screening. His parents, played by Williams and There Will Be Blood star Paul Dano, are the enchantingly opposite Mitzi and Burt Fabelman.
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Mitzi, a former concert pianist, revels in her love for art and whimsy. Burt, meanwhile, is an electrical engineer whose forward thinking in his field forces the family to relocate around the country, from Phoenix, AZ to sunny California.
Though the movie sets itself apart due to its powerful ensemble – which includes Seth Rogan and Judd Hirsch – Williams‘ portrayal of the unpredictable and eccentric Mitzi is incomparable.
In one scene, Mitzi – who sports a signature blunt blonde bob – steals the show as she dances backlit by headlights in an almost see-through nightgown. Leaving some family members uncomfortable – and others titillated – Mitzi appears to relish in the attention, especially when it means stepping out of the “housewife” and “mom” roles that have been chosen for her.
In another standout moment, Mitzi takes her son and two eldest daughters in her car to get as close as they can to a tornado. As the kids squirm in the back in fear, Mitzi assures them, “of course it’s safe, I’m your mother!” As the weather intensifies, however, Mitzi breaks down and the car comes to halt as she finally realizes that her impulses have once again gotten the best of her.
Her many troubles are only heightened once Sammy starts filming the family and begins to see her for who she truly is. Without giving too much away, there’s one scene where Sammy shows her his recordings and wow does it pull on your heartstrings. It’s one of those movie moments where you only see the person’s reactions and not what they’re reacting to – a stunning feat by Spielberg and Williams.
Mitzi is not all negatives either, her undeniable talent inspires everyone around her (including Sammy) and her unwavering support for her son’s talent is incredible to see. She’s also funny, with one-liners like “I’ve started therapy!”— a joyful relief from her otherwise chaotic persona.
Overall, Williams plays an ever-so-complicated mother in The Fabelmans, a perspective that’s often lacking on-screen. In many, many movies, moms can often fall into categories: loving, angry, jealous or sad. But Mitzi Fabelman is all of the above; she’s complex, she’s multidimensional, and she’s human.
Although awards season will offer stiff competition (there’s quite a deep bench of impressive talent this year), Williams’ layered performance could land her a fifth Oscar nomination and third nod in the Best Actress in a Leading Role category. Other potential nominees include Cate Blanchett in Tar, Danielle Deadwyler in Till, Ana de Armas in Blonde, Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once, and Jennifer Lawrence in Causeway, among others.
In the meantime, The Fabelmans hits theaters on Nov 11. Whether you love her, relate to her or just hate her guts, Williams’ portrayal of a mom struggling with the realities of parenthood is full-proof awards worthy.
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