From: Silver Screen
REVIEW: ‘The Fabelmans’ is a coming-of-age masterpiece about the magic of movie making
Steven Spielberg tells his remarkable origin story in the wonderfully wholesome and semi-autobiographical new movie “The Fabelmans.” The joyous film celebrates the art of filmmaking juxtaposed with the unique awkwardness of American adolescence.
Gabriel LaBelle gives a star-making performance as Sammy Fabelman, the stand-in for Spielberg himself. Michelle Williams and Paul Dano are equally fantastic as Sammy’s mother and father. Williams will likely find herself nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards for the full-throttle whirlwind of emotions she goes through over the course of the film.
The story begins with a young Sammy (Mateo Zoryan) falling in love with cinema after watching “The Greatest Show on Earth” with his parents. He starts shooting scenes with his father’s 8mm camera, and as a teenager (now played by LaBelle), he recruits members of his Boy Scout troop to act in more complex productions.
The cinematography is dazzling throughout the whole feature; every scene is beautifully shot. The entire film carries a warm vintage aesthetic. One particularly awe-inspiring scene tracks Sammy as he makes a World War II film. He casts his fellow Boy Scouts as army troops invading enemy territory and uses ketchup packets for blood in their death scenes. The sequence knowingly winks at audiences familiar with the later war epics Spielberg would later release like “Saving Private Ryan” and “War Horse.”
What sets the film apart from other beloved coming-of-age films is Spielberg’s focus on his Jewish upbringing. The second half of the film focuses on the family’s abrupt move to California where Sammy faces antisemitism for the first time.
In an early scene, Sammy looks through the footage he shot of his family’s camping trip and realizes his mother is in love with his father’s best friend, charmingly played by Seth Rogen. This leads to a devastating confrontation between Sammy and his mother, emphasized by lighting that highlights her distraught face and further conveys the melancholy of his mother’s marriage.
Sammy is an introspective soul, and throughout the movie, he finds comfort and closure in the lens of his film camera. He also realizes the power of filming lies in the director’s ability to twist the truth, unearth secrets and provide an escape.
Sammy's final film project in the movie is recording his senior ditch day. In the project, Sammy decides to paint his high school bully as a wholesome all-American golden boy. Sammy knows as a director, he can turn the obstacles he faces in his own life into cinematic gold and he has the power to recontextualize his reality with only a camera in his hand.
Many directors resort to self-aggrandizing and pretension when telling stories about themselves, but Spielberg avoids all of those traps in “The Fabelmans.” The earnest sincerity of the script and breathtaking direction combine to make the movie an irresistibly heartwarming tale of an auteur coming into his own.