Review: “The Fabelmans” is yet another imaginative Spielberg masterpiece
Review: “The Fabelmans” is another imaginative Spielberg masterpiece
The Fabelmans begins with little Sammy in a state of apprehension. About to see a movie for the first time, Sammy listens (with gawking eyes) to his very logical, engineer father breaking down the science of moving pictures on the pavement outside the theater. With a radiant smile, Sammy’s mother kneels to comfort him. “Movies are dreams that you never forget,” she says. After the movie, Sammy’s horrified by the melodramatic train crash he’d witnessed. But somehow, he became a filmmaker, just as Steven Spielberg did.
Loosely based on Spielberg’s childhood, The Fabelmans is a coming-of-age drama that follows a Jewish family whose son, Sammy, falls in love with filmmaking. From the moment young Sammy, played by Mateo Zoryan, creates a movie for the first time with his prize electric train set, Spielberg instills a sense of magic. You feel nostalgic about the times when you’ve also felt captivated by movies. And this joyful, comforting feeling continues to grow as you watch Sammy mature—as a filmmaker and an individual—into his early college years. The Fabelmans has moments of hilarity but also explores heavy-hitting subjects like antisemitism, divorce, betrayal and forgiveness with grace.
Most of Spielberg’s film touches on ways an artist’s work can strain family dynamics. Sammy’s mother is supportive of his talent from the beginning, but his father, Burt, played wonderfully by Paul Dano, struggles to understand why Sammy would want to pursue an unstable hobby as a career. It took time for Burt to accept his son’s ambitions, but by the movie’s end, Mr. Fabelman has one of the most heartfelt character arcs.
You also experience teenage Sammy—who used to make imaginative films of his sisters wrapped head to toe in toilet paper like mummies—fall out of love with filmmaking as the Fabelmans move to Northern California. Gabriel LaBelle’s performance is hilarious at times, especially when he navigates his first relationship with the popular (and Jesus-obsessed) Monica Sherwood, whose bedroom is a mixed shrine of hot, famous poster men and religious iconography. But LaBelle also performs with vulnerability as Sammy copes with bullying and navigates his identity as a Jewish person at his new high school.
In the role of Mitzi, Sammy’s mother, Michelle Williams dazzled like no other. Presumed to be the bubbly artistic half of the Fabelman parents, Mitzi struggles to determine what is best for her family and best for her own heart—and Williams portrays this conflict with a seamless depth of emotion. One of Williams’ most memorable scenes happens the morning after Sammy’s senior prom. As Mitzi tries her best to avoid burning her scrambled eggs on the skillet, she makes amends with Sammy for her mistakes in family relationships. “You do what your heart says you have to,” Mitzi says in the heartfelt monologue.
To no surprise, Spielberg’s cinematography is exquisite. With a watchful eye and sharp recollection of Spielberg’s past work, viewers can catch moments that almost feel like cinematic parallels. Sammy using his closet as a personal theater for his movies certainly sirs my memories of watching his 1982 science fiction film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. And as teenage Sammy directs his acting crew (usually composed of his fellow Boy Scouts and siblings), John Williams’ brilliant score makes you feel like you’ve been transported into the world of every movie Sammy creates.
Not only does Spielberg’s new movie celebrate familial love and the magic of movies, but it embodies the spirit of the holiday season. Each moment of The Fabelmans is a joy to watch, especially for those with a heart for cinema.