The Fabelmans – Film Review

The Fabelmans – Film Review
by Frank L

Director – Steven Spielberg
Writers – Steven Spielberg, Tony Kushner
Stars – Michelle Williams, Gabriel LaBelle, Paul Dano

Steven Spielberg was born in December 1946 and was therefore a child in the fifties and a teenager in the sixties. The second world war was in the past and an extraordinary period of economic prosperity in the United States ruled with all sorts of domestic new devices and gadgets becoming commonplace and more affordable including televisions and cameras. The script of this film was written jointly by Spielberg and Tony Kushner (Angels in America). It charts the story of the Fabelman family whose members are the alter ego of the Spielberg family with Sammy being Steven Spielberg. It is a semi-autobiographical canter through Spielberg’s early life which shows that he was fascinated by movies and the excitement of movie theatres from an early age.

The film begins in 1952 with Burt (Paul Dano) and Mitzi (Michelle Williams) taking their six-year-old son Sammy (Mateo Zoryan) to the movies to see “The greatest show on earth”. Young Sammy is fascinated and wants to recreate the scene of a crash from the film. And so the seed is sown and Sammy is encouraged in his endeavours by Mitzi, who is a piano player of concert hall calibre, and by Burt’s best friend Bennie (Seth Rogen) who is so often around the house he is known as Uncle Bennie. Meanwhile, Burt is one of those skilled individuals who understand the workings of the new devices and appliances and repairs television sets in his spare time for friends.

The film makes several leaps forward as Burt’s career brings the family to Arizona and then ultimately to California. The adolescent Sammy is now played by Gabriel la Belle. The Fabelmans’ marriage which initially seemed idyllic begins to develop cracks and these cracks have an effect on Sammy. In addition, Sammy is discovering that there are not that many Jewish boys in California and that a large number of his high school colleagues have stereotypical views about Jews which are indicative of the time but put simply they are antisemitic. However, none of this prevents Sammy from pointing his camera in all sorts of directions which results in him seeing at times scenes which are not reassuring for a young adolescent. While Mitzi and Bennie encourage Sammy in his film-making endeavours Burt is anxious that Sammy settles down and concentrates on having a proper career which for him cannot include filmmaking which is fine as a hobby but that is all.

La Belle is completely engaging as the adolescent Sammy while the three adults Mitzi, Burt and Bennie create a web of relationships that Williams, Rogen and Dano weave into a complex tapestry with which the young Sammy has to deal. It is all minutely observed. At times there are scenes which are both embarrassing and funny as when Sammy finds himself manoeuvered into the bedroom of his unlikely first girlfriend.

The film lasts two and a half hours which is a substantial time for a story about childhood and adolescence. However, young Sammy is so determined to create a life for himself in movies that you are on his side as he faces the vicissitudes of adolescence and the particular challenges that the course he is determined to follow produces.

The film gives you some idea of the influences on Spielberg in his formative years and how they contribute to him as the film director he was destined to become later in life. The list of his acclaimed films is long. The Fabelmans itself can be added to that illustrious list. This is a film to be enjoyed on its own merits. It will also enrich a viewing of his earlier films as it gives some insight into what makes Spielberg tick. It has already won the award of Best Film in the Golden Globe awards. No doubt further acclaim, with justification, awaits.

Categories: Header, Movie Review, Movies

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