This article contains major spoilers for "The Fabelmans."
"The Fabelmans" — Steven Spielberg's semi-autobiographical tale about a creative child building his cinematic language through the lens of his parent's deteriorating marriage — is an intimate epic whose emotional beats are highlighted by its ensemble cast.
Michelle Williams and Paul Dano soar as representations of his folks, in addition to Seth Rogen as the family friend, Bennie. Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy Fabelman is the film's beating heart, not only because the character calls for it, but because he turns in a truly magnificent central performance. Even if you strip away the movie's fundamental building blocks, however, what you're left with is a series of memorable side characters who only need a scene to work their magic.
Life is full of people that enter our lives at unexpected times and imprint themselves onto us in ways we never expect. Judd Hirsch is riveting as Sammy's Uncle Boris, an enigmatic figure who comes out of the shadows to impart his wisdom. There's also David Lynch's pitch-perfect cameo as John Ford, who not only teaches Sammy a valuable lesson, but also ends the film on an incredible laugh.
Although these two titans certainly make their mark with their characters, perhaps the most surprising supporting performance — in my eyes, at least — manifests itself in "The Wolf of Snow Hollow" star, Chloe East.
'Jesus IS Sexy'
Chloe East enters "The Fabelmans" at a crucial point as Monica, a hyper-religious Christian girl at Sammy's high school who quickly falls for the ambitious filmmaker. The two are introduced to one another after an incident in which Sammy catches an anti-Semitic jock (Sam Rechner) cheating on his girlfriend (Chandler Lovelle), who just happens to be Monica's best friend. When the trio meets in the library, Monica seems intrigued by the fact that Sammy is Jewish.
In her first big scene, where Monica invites her crush over for a "prayer" session, East proves that she has a wonderful screen presence. Her bedroom is adorned with images of Jesus. You're almost expecting the shrine on her wall, given her passion for the topic, but Spielberg goes a step further with that hilarious reveal of a massive crucifix smack dab in the middle of a heart above her bed. "Jesus is sexy," says Monica upon Sammy seeing her holy collectibles.
There's an almost swelling eroticism in how much Monica wants to share her pious love for God with him. She all but lusts to bring Sammy to God, repeatedly asking Jesus to "come" into them, and her homemade prayer humorously builds until she throws Sammy on the bed for a Christ-approved makeout session. If this were her only scene, East would have left "The Fabelmans" proving that she has impeccable comic timing, although it would have been little more than a one-note caricature. Thankfully, she proves that there are no small roles in a Spielberg flick.
A Kind And Supportive Presence In Sammy's Life
Steven Spielberg is aware that Monica needs to be a boisterous presence, and trusts Chloe East to bring that charm to life. She ends up dating Sammy, and even gives him the nudge he needs to reignite his spark for filmmaking by suggesting he film the school's beachside Ditch Day. When Monica offers to share her father's 16mm camera, Sammy might as well have heard a declaration of love.
Even when "The Fabelmans" uses Monica's devout faith for a laugh, it's not so much all at her expense but Sammy's, who has no idea how much she would affect his life. The Ditch Day sequence shows the puppy love couple having a wonderful time together. East and Gabriel LaBelle share a really sweet chemistry that helps sell their unexpected bond, and there's an excellent one-two punch in Sammy's car when they pull up to Prom.
The two pause in the car before heading into the high school, and there's moment of silent admiration that's hilariously interrupted by Monica unleashing a can of hairspray as if she were a soldier launching a grenade in one of Sammy's war pictures. On top of gifting her with a beautiful corsage, Sammy has attached a necklace with a crucifix on it. The doe-eyed Monica looks over at her date and asks if he's found Jesus, to which Sammy beautifully replies, "I found it in a jewelry store" with the goofiest smile on his face.
The most poignant scene of East's performance, however, comes when the relationship arrives at a crossroads.
Monica Avoids Being A One-Dimensional Side Character
As Sammy frets over the many signs of his folks' incoming divorce, he tells Monica that he loves her. She turns him down — not only does Monica see right through him, but she shows a great deal of emotional maturity. They each want different things, and Monica doesn't want to compromise her future at Texas A&M for Sammy's insecurities. Chloe East's gentle performance shows that she does care for her filmmaker boy toy, but is acutely aware that realistically, this is the end of the line.
In a way, it's an excellent precursor to the final scene that Gabriel LaBelle shares with David Lynch's John Ford. "When the horizon is in the middle, it's boring as s***," Ford tells Sammy at the end of the film. Before Sammy walks into Ford's office, he has these incredible aspirations stirring within him, but his narrow-minded view of holding onto a love that his folks couldn't sustain as well as his relationship with his high school sweetheart, cause him to panic. The only horizon Sammy wants to run toward at first is right in front of him, while Monica is the one who sees above and beyond.
Sammy and Monica never share another scene together after the breakup, but there's a crucial moment after the Ditch Day screening, where she stands by the projector. Although their paths are diverging, a part of Monica smiles knowing that the sweet boy she fell for is on his way to a bright future.
An argument could be made for East nabbing a Supporting Actress nomination, but even if that doesn't pan out, she at least made a brief and memorable performance that speaks for itself.
"The Fabelmans" is now playing in theaters nationwide.
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