‘The Fabelmans’ review: Steven Spielberg tells his own super-director origin story


“The Fabelmans” allows Steven Spielberg to turn his coming-of-age memories into what amounts to a super-director origin story, recalling both his complicated family life and early loves of film and cinema. It’s a deeply personal chronicle of one of cinema’s great talents, resulting in a film that presents wonderful moments within a somewhat scattered narrative.

The film opens with a young Sammy Fabelman watching his first movie, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” in 1952. To say that the experience affected him deeply would be an understatement, and his thirst to replicate the process, first on a rudimentary level, and later on an increasingly elaborate scale, is almost inextinguishable and fascinating to watch.

Still, young Sammy’s formative years go hand in hand with his uneasy family life, which includes a free-spirited mother (Michelle Williams), who eagerly supports his creative impulses, and a scientific-minded genius literal from a father (Paul Dano) who sees filmmaking as an impractical “hobby,” as he insists on calling it much to the boy’s dismay.

The troubled nature of their marriage, and the role of father’s friend and colleague Bennie (Seth Rogen, strong in a serious role), only becomes more pronounced and uncomfortable as Sammy enters his high school years, where he played, terribly, by Gabriel. LaBelle.

The father’s job forces the family to move twice, first to Phoenix and then to Northern California, where Sammy must deal with anti-Semitism as well as his nascent recognition of his mother’s unhappiness.

He not only directed but shared the screenplay with playwright Tony Kushner of “Angels in America” ​​​​(with whom he collaborated on “Munich”, where he began to filter the idea of ​​”The Fabelmans”, “Lincoln” and most recently “West Side.” Story”), Spielberg masterfully conveys the sense of wonder his younger self felt in discovering movies and trying to master the craft. Sammy’s impatience with school baffled his father, but he found channels of support, including a timely visit from his grandmother’s colorful brother (Judd Hirsch), who had enough exposure to show business to recognize the teen’s all-consuming passion.

As the title suggests, “The Fabelmans” takes some license with Spielberg’s biography, but the bones of it are there, with its relatable awkwardness in early relationships. The film also extends his nearly 50-year collaboration with composer John Williams, who provides a score that reflects the film’s mix of whimsy and anguish.

Through it all, “The Fabelmans” moves somewhat episodically, at its best serving as a Valentine for anyone driven by artistic expression and, in weaker parts, threatening to sink into the family melodrama

The former happily trumps the latter – and not coincidentally, it should be catnip to award voters, as something like “Cinema Paradiso” was – but the dynamic somewhat counteracts the film’s nostalgic pleasures. Simply put, the advanced buzz around “The Fabelmans” as an Oscar contender is as much a referendum that this is a relatively weak year for mainstream movies as an endorsement.

Having scaled every mountain Hollywood has to offer, Spielberg has certainly earned the right to enjoy this trip down memory lane, and the fact that the film is being released by Universal, the studio where he cut his professional teeth, directing for television before his breakthrough. with “Jaws” – put a proper bow on the whole package.

“The Fabelmans” is not a blockbuster, but it is a window into what influenced a director who has given us countless memories on screen throughout his history. If that’s not enough to take audiences on a trip to the moon, it’s definitely worth the price of a theater ticket.

“The Fabelmans” opens in select U.S. theaters on Nov. 11 and expands to a wide release on Nov. 23. It is rated PG-13.

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