For fifty years, director Steven Spielberg has been entertaining audiences worldwide. Now in his 70s, he looked over his filmography and thought about what film he would want to make next and Spielberg decided that the story he had not told yet but most wanted to was his own.
The Fabelmans is the story of an American family told through the eyes of aspiring filmmaker son Sammy (Gabriel Labelle). His father Burt (Paul Dano) is a genius engineer whose career is only just beginning. Sammy‘s mother Mitzi (Michelle Williams) on the other hand is a free spirit pianist. Along with Sammy‘s two younger sisters, the family is living the 1950s American dream.
Falling in love with film at an early age, Sammy makes his own movies with friends supported by both parents. However, he is only truly encouraged by his mother while his father sees filmmaking as a hobby. Through Sammy‘s teenage years, we follow the Fabelmans across America as Burt moves up the corporate ladder. Meanwhile, Sammy discovers a horrible truth which tears a rift between his love of film and his family.
Although semi-fictional, The Fabelmans is based heavily upon Spielberg‘s own upbringing. I’ve been a fan of movies for as long as I can remember, and Spielberg has played a massive role in that. Beyond even the amazing films he himself directed, his influence as a producer cannot be overstated. From ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Schindlers List’, to ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘Gremlins’, it’s almost surreal how prolific his output has been.
This is a deeply personal film for Spielberg giving us a candid look into his upbringing and his parents’ lives. But also, a fascinating one as he shows us in his own words what led him to become the famous director he is today. Spielberg has never really been much of a subtle dramatic storyteller, but I think that really works well here. The movie has a nostalgic aura to it like you are viewing these events as someone would remember them. Even if not exactly how they happened, it never feels like he is holding back, and this is a true ‘warts and all’ tale.
The film’s Sammy makes are based on Spielberg‘s own earliest movies, although recreated with Oscar award-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. I loved seeing the process of how he made these movies, followed by the magical finished product.
But this isn’t just a movie about filmmaking, it’s a movie about a boy realising his parents are just people with their own failings. You can tell just how much love Spielberg has for his parents in how they are portrayed. Williams is wonderful as a woman torn in half by an unfulfilled life. While Dano, often cast in youthful oddball roles, is adorable as this slightly clueless paternal figure.
Gabriel Labelle also impressively holds his own in between these two proven actors. As his character faces the trials family and of high school antisemitism, he shows range that is sure to make him a star.
The Fabelmans also features several standout roles by actors in relatively small parts. Judd Hirsch swoops in as the lion taming Uncle Boris to teach Sammy some harsh realities of life as an artist. As well as the always jovial Seth Rogan who turns in a very human performance as Bennie, the family friend.
While some scenes themselves may linger, surprisingly The Fabelmans never feels like a 150-minute movie. This is the first film in over 20 years Steven Spielberg has written himself and it is a poignant one. With amazing performances, The Fabelmans is a story about the importance of following your passion above all else. It may strike some as self-indulgent for Spielberg to tell his own story, but I think if anyone deserves to, he does!
The Fabelmans will be in cinemas from January 5th 2023.