For Steven Spielberg’s 34th feature film he tells an autobiographical tale about his early years and his journey into filmmaking. It tells the story of Mitzi and Burt Fabelman and their 3 (then 4) children with Sammy, the Steven Spielberg stand-in being the eldest. The film opens with them going to the cinema to see young Sammy’s first film, Cecil B DeMille’s epic film ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. To say it has a profound effect on him is probably an understatement and thus his passion for film begins.
The film shows Sammy and his family during his childhood and teenage years. This is a film that one can’t help but be charmed by. It is a story of family, through the fun times and the not so and as you watch you become attached to the Fabelmans and care and that is all we really want, right? It’s not about liking them or not, it’s about empathising and recognising the humanity and the struggle in them.
Michelle Williams gives an Oscar worthy performance as Sammy’s Mother, Mitzi, who’s artistic dreams and romantic ideas sometimes clash with her husband, Burt who is a very talented computer engineer. She is a gifted pianist and musician but her art seems to have no outlet and thus friction is born.
Gabriel LaBelle plays Steven, sorry, Sammy with all the wide-eyed wonder and teenage confusion clearly on display with a subtlety that really works. He even looks more and more like the young Steven as the movie goes on.
Once again John Williams scores the film and does so with heart and warmth. This is purported to be his last ever score but we’ll see about that…..
This is a gently, beautiful ode to Spielberg’s early years and his family especially his Mother, Leah Adler and Father, Arnold Spielberg who died in 2017 and 2020 respectively. Apparently they both wanted Steven to make a film about their life and he had originally conceived of the idea and written a script in 1999 with his sister Anne. Spielberg eventually revisited the idea and worked on a script with his regular collaborator, the award winning writer, Tony Kushner during the making of West Side Story.
Also worth mentioning is a cameo by the wonderful, Judd Hirsch, playing his Grand Uncle Boris, a one time circus worker and was involved in the film business who lights a fire under Sammy in regard to his art. Seth Rogen is very good as Bennie, a close friend of the family and work colleague of Burt. Julia Butters, who was so good in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, plays Reggie Fabelman based on Spielberg’s sister, Anne and is again brilliant. We get a little of James Urbaniak and a smidgeon of Greg Grunberg, both great and both a welcome addition to the cast.
The internets describe a fabel as ‘a fictitious narrative intended to enforce some useful truth or precept’ hence The Fabelmans title. A nice word play on what the film is.
The last Spielberg film I saw was Lincoln in 2012, I have seen 24 out of his 34 films and this one was lovely, a beautifully honest and at times, raw portrait of his early family life. A truly great homage to his parents and family.
Surely, Michelle Williams will be nominated for Best Actress at the very least.
What an incredibly varied and mutli-genred career Spielberg has. Along with fellow peers Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola among others he has cemented himself as one of America’s greatest film directors of the 20th and 21st century. He has blessed us with treasures that are still admired and enjoyed today and I, for one am thankful for him and his art.
An intensely personal film for the maestro.
“Most of my movies have been a reflection of things that happened to me in my formative years,” Spielberg says. “Everything that a filmmaker puts him or herself into, even if it’s somebody else’s script, your life is going to come spilling out onto celluloid, whether you like it or not. It just happens. But with The Fabelmans, it wasn’t about the metaphor; it was about the memory.”
Released in Australia on January 5th 2023.