Fabelmans Review: One of Steven Spielberg’s Best Movies Tells His Own Story

Polygon has a team at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, reporting on well-meaning horror, comedy, drama and action films that dominate the cinematic conversation as we kick off awards season. This review was published in conjunction with the film’s TIFF premiere.

In an age obsessed with character origin stories, the first words in Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical film Fabelmans makes it look like he was out to join the cinematic trend. But his coming-of-age, crowd-pleasing story doesn’t fit in that box or any other. His deeply personal story is not at all an autobio, a replay of the biggest hits of a single filmmaker’s career, or a cliché tribute to filmmaking. Fabelmans is a vulnerable approach to the past, to heal a wound that seems to still be as tender as the day it opened decades ago, despite an explosion of comedies and contemplation. measured are displayed.

Because at the heart of nearly every Spielberg film is the spirit of a boy, still grieving over his parents’ divorce, brooding over his grief in the vast sandbox of cinema. You can see the child’s pain involuntarily welling up in the characters father and mother arguing from Close encounters of the third type. It arose in the family dynamics of ET: Extraterrestrials. And it grows in Catch me if you can, as Frank Abagnale sought refuge at his mother’s second family home. But Spielberg has never approached his own childhood with as much candor as in this latest film.

Sometimes, Fabelmans feels like an idealized daydream of what could have happened to him, which often melts away the edges of the real world and the pure anger he feels when son of divorced parents. This is not a confession story. It gives real-world characters a much-needed grace, kind people only find after stepping out onto the other side of their life. And it has a brand of ingenuity – from deliberate containment to controlled deft camera movement – that only happens when you, well, Steven Spielberg. Above all, it is a message of sympathy from the director to his mother.

Spielberg again worked with Tony Kushner (his collaborator on West story, Lincolnand Munich) for script development. Their story begins with Burt (Paul Dano, in a stellar performance) and Mitzi Fabelman (Michelle Williams, in a pause) bringing their young son Sammy (Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord in) with them. early scenes, and Gabriel LaBelle in the teen movie) went to the movies to see Cecil B. DeMille’s The biggest show on earth. The images emanating from the screen stunned and excited Sammy. And a burning train wreck, in which a car is rammed, blood spurts and explosions fill the air, scares him so much that he recreates the scene of his toy train repeating itself. hauntingly repetitive.

To reassure his son, Mitzi lends Sammy his dad’s camera so he can film one of his toy train accidents as a way to face his fears. What Mitzi really does, though, is ignite a therapeutic love for filmmaking, creating a lens that will become Sammy’s tool for trying to understand the world.

Sammy’s universe isn’t that complicated. Burt is a brilliant, workaholic computer engineer, and Mitzi is a free-spirited, well-trained pianist. Sammy has three sisters: Reggie (Julia Butters), Natalie (Keeley Karsten) and Lisa (Sophia Kopera). The New Jersey home where they all lived was the perfect incubator for Sammy’s imagination. Within their tight Jewish community, they follow Jewish traditions, share their cultural humour, and are regularly visited by relatives. (This is an extremely Jewish movie.) They also hang out with Burt’s best friend and co-worker Bennie Loewy (Seth Rogen), a man who appears to be completely supportive of the pair, but his flaws. I may one day destroy the family. In building on the forced support system that the Fabelmans enjoy in their neighborhood, Spielberg and Kushner’s assurance scenario reveals the rifts that form when the family leaves their familiar place of detention.

Burt is ambitious and selfish. First, he raised his family and moved them to Arizona. Then he took the stick and headed for Northern California. The more his family moved West, the further Sammy moved away from his family and his roots – which brought him closer to his passion for art. This initial setup, which consumes the first hour of this 151-minute personal essay, runs at a slow pace, with an initial thesis that disorients you. How much is Spielberg in Sammy? What percentage of what we are seeing is fiction? Why is this not just named The Spielbergs To save everyone’s headaches?

In one scene, Sammy and his Eagle Scouts teammates sneak into a movie set. It says that John Ford’s The man who shot Liberty Valance playing. The film, starring Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, revolves around a local senator who recounts how his rise to power was fueled by a legend that he shot dead an outlaw. law, when in practice it is not. It’s a movie about my downfall, my reinvention, and the American West as a forced backdrop to creating your own identity. Fabelmans works the same way: It’s not a story rooted in rhythm, it’s an opportunity for Spielberg to reshape the past without the burden of his name.

It also allows him to relive the memory of his mother. In many ways, Sammy and Mitzi are exactly alike. Burt considers their passion for art a hobby. And especially Mitzi, who has spent years devoting creative goals to her husband’s burgeoning career. In the words of Mitzi’s uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch, who absolutely loves a scene from him), she can play anywhere for any symphony. Instead, she became a mother. Now, she and Sammy are looking to overcome Burt’s idiosyncrasies. But the close bond once shared by mother and son unravels when Sammy learns a disturbing secret about Mitzi (in a sequence tastefully assembled by Fabelmans editors Sarah Broshar and Michael Kahn) caused him to temporarily lose interest in filmmaking.

Make no mistake, however, Fabelmans not sad. An image suddenly danced across the screen. Janusz Kaminski’s well-calibrated track shots and brilliant cinematography set the bar for creativity. References to Spielberg’s biggest hits contribute to his own career. The scenes Sammy first shot in simple shorts, then moved on to home-made, mid-sized war movies that were compelling enough to make the entire audience want to take part in amateur filmmaking. And at Sammy’s new Los Angeles High School, he falls in love with a Christian girl, Monica (Chloe East), whose efforts to convert Sammy provide riotous prayers that double as euphemistic chants. language.

Film poster for The Fabelmans, depicting various scenes of the film surrounding a single human silhouette moving through multiple studios

Image: Universal Pictures

However, the feeling of betrayal that a child feels after a divorce drives this film. That’s where LaBelle shines as teenage Sammy. He didn’t just imitate Spielberg’s rhythm of speech and body language. He goes above and beyond mere pretense by portraying Sammy as a sassy, ​​uninformed, and silly street kid first, and second as Spielberg. Nowhere does that feel more than when Sammy confronts her anti-Semitic bullies with the power of theatrical experience. This is a movie that really loves moviegoers: It worships the inner intrigues, hypnotic amazement, and revealed truths that happen when people see themselves on screen. LaBelle based these shots with a realism that conveys not a sense of myth, but with excitement and contagion.

And while LaBelle was great on his own, he discovered another level playing opposite a fiery Williams and a delicate, yet powerful Dano. (The character work done here is one of his best.) Williams, as a stuck housewife, shooting in a freestyle performance might qualify as unbelievably stunning in its rawness and vibrancy, if she hadn’t done it. Williams perfectly describes what it feels like to be a woman on the verge of tearing herself apart, until she remembers that it wasn’t. she dreams or happiness need to be shredded.

But Spielberg has a refreshing solution by making sure not to paint Burt or Mitzi as outright villains. They are complex people with unpredictable needs that they cannot meet when together. This is Sammy understanding the ambiguity of adulthood. This is Spielberg embracing it, so he can consider his mother a valid person in her own right.

At the end of the film – including a cameo too hilarious to be portrayed by David Lynch as John Ford – Sammy skips a lot of the set when he learns his troubles are behind him and his future. are in front. Fabelmans is Spielberg using his vast filmmaking knowledge to craft a story whose entire heart is pinned on the screen. It’s a beautifully crafted, evocative, engaging blockbuster, perfectly tailored to remind viewers of the power that can be in a film.

Fabelmans will launch with a limited release on November 11, with a broad release on November 23.

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