Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner
Starring: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Gabriel LaBelle, Judd Hirsch
Steven Spielberg’s latest film, The Fabelmans, is the most personal film he’s ever made. The story, written by Spielberg and Tony Kushner (They had previously worked together on Munich, Lincoln, and West Side Story), is based upon Spielberg’s own childhood and family. The Fabelmans is a love-letter not only to cinema, but also to Spielberg’s parents, and it’s been a long time coming. Spielberg first mentioned making a film about his family over twenty years ago, and it’s definitely been worth the wait
The film opens in 1952 with Sam Fabelman (Mateo Zoryan Francis-DeFord, and then Gabriel LaBelle when he’s older) going to see The Greatest Show on Earth, which will be his first film in the cinema with his parents, Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and Burt (Paul Dano). Sam is the stand-in for Spielberg in the story, and he’s completely awestruck by the story being shown on the big screen. As a big train crash happens, he’s completely stunned by it, playing it over in his mind again and again and again. To try and deal with his fear, he asks for a train set for Hanukkah, and repeatedly crashes it. His mother suggests he films it, to avoid breaking the expensive toy, and his life as a filmmaker begins.
From the first moment of the film, it’s absolutely great, and it’s so easy to fall in love with the story being told. The performances are brilliant, and the characters are lovingly written. Everyone is on top form both in front of and behind the camera. The Fabelman family dynamic absolutely shines and there’s so much warmth in every scene the family shares. Throughout the story it deals with a lot of drama, funny moments, and some heart wrenching moments. It’s also a story about storytelling, and the origins of one of the greatest directors of film history.
One of the best scenes of the film is when Sam’s granduncle, Boris (Judd Hirsch) comes for a visit shortly after Sam’s grandmother dies. He’s worked in the film world, as well as a circus, and Sammy is instantly engaged with his stories. He also comes with a warning, about how Sam is going to be torn between his artistic dreams and family and there will always be a clash between them. Judd Hirsch is phenomenal in the scene, which echoes throughout the rest of the film, as Sam struggles with wanting to make his films, while his family want him to have other priorities. For example, his dad constantly refers to his passion as a hobby, and asks him to put aside his war film to make a family film of a recent camping trip. It causes a lot of tension in his life. When the family gets devastating news, he immediately goes back to editing and his sister can’t understand how he does it.
Some of the other highlights are the scenes that show Sam and his friends making their short films are pure brilliance. Even though the final product is a lot more glamourous than Spielberg’s teenage films probably were, the little details of how they create the effects or achieve certain shots are really fun to watch. There’s a nostalgic charm to every one of them, and the passion for filmmaking oozes out of the screen.
This quite a long film and the only time you really start to feel the film’s length is during a prom sequence. Showing Sam at prom, where he’s made a film about his class during a day out to the beach and made one of his bullies come across as a hero. It gives the bully a moment of redemption, but he doesn’t deserve it and the whole scene seems out of place. Sam can’t even explain why he turns his bully into a school hero, it’s just an odd moment all round.
Once that’s over though the final scenes show some really touching moments between Sam and his father, and then David Lynch appearing as director John Ford. The film is brilliant anyway, but David Lynch appearing in anything is always going to add something special to it. Spielberg has told the story in interviews about meeting Ford, so it’s definitely a true moment and a good way to end the film, knowing everything Sam/Steven is going to achieve in the following decades.
Spielberg is an excellent storyteller who is always on top form and The Fabelmans is absolutely no exception to that. It’s moving, inspiring, and completely captivating. There’s been a recent trend of films celebrating cinema, like the recent Babylon and Empire of Light, and this is the best of the bunch. It’s not just about the artform, it’s also a deeply personal story of a family.
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