Cinema is the one true place we all love to go to escape. Immerse ourselves with the world that’s on the screen, a world we think we belong to. Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans will transport us into that world, with a love letter to film. Or is it to his own parents? Both.
This is Spielberg’s most personal film to date. Sharing his memories of his childhood and in true Hollywood spirit, fictionalising them as well. He joins a long line of film makers who have went onto make their own story on the big screen. Last year James Gray shared his turbulent upbringing in 1980’s New York with Armageddon Time. It would only be fitting that the man who gave us killer sharks, dinosaurs, historical epics his own story could only be told on the big screen. Regardless in what you think of his previous films, Steven Spielberg is a master storyteller, and mythmaker.
Does ‘everything happens for a reason’?, Life is the greatest blockbuster we all star in, what we do can take us on the greatest ever adventure. We can also find ourselves in a horror story, living the worst nightmare ever. That’s life, for Sammy Fabelman (Mateo Zoryon) 1952 changed his life. When his parents took him to see The Greatest Show On Earth Sammy transfixed in what he’s just watched. One scene particular and the train crash scene becoming an obsession for him to re-create the crash. Cecil B. DeMille’s film shaped Spielberg, the train scene rewired his vision, his hearing. Life was like one big lens, everything around him become filmic.
The Fabelmans are a middle class Jewish family whose humble beginnings start in New Jersey. Burt (Paul Dano) Sammy’s father, intelligent computer engineer whose job that see him and his family move state to state. All thanks to job promotions that see them finally settle in California at IBM. Mitzi (Michelle Williams) his mother, a talented piano player, a rock in Sammy’s life. She would encourage her son to face his fears, recreate the train crash scene. She would be the catalyst of his future giving him the family camera.
Sammy is the oldest of four children, the only boy. That didn’t stop him creating short films with his sisters who seem to love every minute. Horrors, Westerns even personal films with the family. It’s on one of those ‘family trips’ Sammy (now played by Gabriel LaBelle) captures something he wish he didn’t see. Something that would shatter his family and threaten his own dreams to become a film maker.
The power of parenting is on show in The Fabelmans. When you notice your kids anxieties you want to make them feel at ease. The world is a terrifying place, you wonder if Spielberg’s parents didn’t introduce cinema to him would be talking about Steven Spielberg the film-maker? Possibly not, however not every child had parents like Sammy. Talented in their own individual ways enough to see their son has a talent too.
As the film progresses and (LaBelle now as Sammy), Sammy is becoming a fountain of knowledge. His short films are getting bigger, he’s learning little homemade techniques that start to impress. Before you know it he now has a proper editing machine. His father likes to remind his son it’s only a hobby, Sammy begs to differ his talent is very natural.
Behind the rise of Sammy, not all is well when it comes to Burt and Mitzi’s relationship. Whilst both love each other so much, they are drifting apart. Burt seems to be married to his job. Mitzi respects that job is keeping a roof over their heads, however moving from New Jersey to California has made an impact on them. Eagle eyed may have noticed the relationship was becoming a ‘third party’ with Benny (Seth Rogen) Burt’s best friend. Both working together and Benny moved with them to Arizona, the kids love him. They call him uncle, secretly someone ese loves him in another way and Sammy catches that.
The film does touch base with some heavy subjects with relationships, death, mental health, and xenophobia. The death of his grandmother truly affected Sammy and his grand-uncle (Judd Hirsch) who had actually worked in the industry. Whose pivotal chat pushed Sammy back on the right track, reminding him it’s a lonely place in film.
Both Mateo Zoryon , and Gabriel LaBelle are superb as Sammy. Zoryon piercing eyes hypnotise you, as he watches in fear and awe at the films on the big screen. You start to smile as you know a master of cinema has taken his first steps. Zoryon showed Sammy’s innocence, LaBelle the vulnerability, the visionary, and naivety. Michelle Williams is a stand out as Mitzi, she encouraged her son and told him ‘movies are dreams’. She’s quircky, playful Paul Dano’s Burt is the polar opposite of Mitzi. He wanted his son to use his hand as his craft rather than his hobby. We can’t forget about the genius cameo from a certain filmmaker as the legendary John Ford.
The Fabelmans is a magical film that may only lay the foundations of Steven Spielberg the master of cinema. It reminds us there is a wonderful story within every family that needs to be told, the camera never lies.
Drama | USA, 2022 | 15 | Cinema | 27th January 2023 (UK) | Entertainment One UK | Dir. Steven Spielberg | Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Mateo Zoryan, Gabriel LaBelle, Seth Rogen
Originally posted at The Peoples Movies on 30th January 2023 | original review link