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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

The Fabelmans: Review

Across five decades of filmmaking, director Steven Spielberg accumulated an endless array of triumphs. The awe and wonderment of Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark spearheaded the creation of modern blockbuster cinema, while gripping dramas like Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan showcased Spielberg's potent ability to convey the human condition through a camera lens.

With his latest project, The Fabelmans, Spielberg undertakes his most significant test yet - telling his own story. Spielberg spent the last two decades contemplating whether to recount his coming-of-age odyssey through the luminous light of the silver screen. He eventually decided to pursue the project during COVID-19 lockdowns, ultimately describing the project as the most significant story he has yet to tell.

Spielberg unsurprisingly tackles the herculean challenge with stellar results. The Fabelmans marks an indelible achievement in coming-of-age storytelling, intelligently reckoning with the filmmaker's expressive joys and pains in a mesmerizing cinematic experience.

Several critic pundits have already denounced Fabelmans as just another routine coming-of-age story infused with Spielberg's typical panache for sentimental storytelling. In reality, the film is anything but simple.

It all starts with Spielberg, who goes by the affectionate nickname Sammy in the film, experiencing filmmaking for the first time as a youth. Amidst the darkly-lit multiplex, Sammy becomes entranced by the scenery of his first filmgoing experience - a silent train robbery film that sparks his imagination in ways that his adolescent mindset can't quite comprehend. This moment is the genesis of Sammy's filmmaking obsession. His passion receives active support from his eccentric mother, Mitzi, but is painted as a mere hobby by his pragmatic father, Burt.

Spielberg and his frequent screenwriting collaborator Tony Kushner follow Sammy as he becomes more entrenched in his filmmaking pursuits, including directing several spirited low-budget productions that pay ode to the western and war epics of yesteryear. The recreation of these productions is glorious in their affectionate glow, with Spielberg's impressive technical craft conveying the innocent whimsy of his early filmmaking experiences.

As Sammy ages, his understanding of the craft evolves when his home movies intersect with troubling developments in his homestead. This process entrenches him in an illuminating trial by fire, placing him face-to-face with the complexities of adulthood through the prism of his film camera.

I found The Fabelmans most rewarding when exploring how Sammy's maturation through the alluring gaze of filmmaking places him face-to-face with an uncompromising reality. While Sammy's enchanted by the humanity and mysticism embedded within filmmaking, he also grows to understand that his dream will dedicate him to an art form that mirrors but can't quite replicate the exact rhythms of life. It's a fascinating portrait of self-discovery from Spielberg that always feels well-balanced in its affecting highs and lows.

Fans of Spielberg's catalog are sure to feel his trademark touch behind the camera. He and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski have a way of making the most menial moments feel grandiose. From the radiant glimmer of each film projection to the expressive framing choices, Spielberg and Kaminski consistently find ways to enhance the compelling drama onscreen. It's all beautifully tied together by another masterful score by composer extraordinaire John Williams.

The performances are also a standout. Gabriel LaBelle cements himself as a star to watch with his aching and personable depiction of Sammy's coming-of-age journey. Paul Dano and Michelle Williams imbue their trademark talents into the complex roles of Burt and Mitzi, while veteran stalwart Judd Hirsch leaves an unshakeable impression in his limited screentime. There's also a great cameo from a Hollywood icon, but I don't want to spoil all of the film's wonderful surprises.

Simply put, The Fabelmans is a masterful achievement. Spielberg and company create an insightful, emotionally resonant, and profoundly impactful story that transcends its biopic form.

The Fabelmans is now playing in theaters


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