Released: 5th January
Seen: 7th February
If one were to make a list of the greatest directors of all time, you wouldn’t get very far before having to write down the name Steven Spielberg. The man has basically been considered one of the best of all time since 1975 (the year he released a little horror flick called Jaws) and every time something comes out with his name attached to it it’s almost certain to be something worth watching. The man just exudes cinema, he understands it better than almost anyone else currently working and seems to have understood what makes a film special for his entire career. With over 40 films to his name it feels like Steven Spielberg has done absolutely everything, except make a film about himself. Turns out, as we learn with The Fabelmans he has broken that barrier too and turns out he’s also fantastic at exposing himself to a large audience… in a non-dirty way.
The Fabelmans tells the story of young Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) who goes with his parents, Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and Burt (Paul Dano) to see a screening of The Greatest Show On Earth by Cecil B DeMille. Enthralled, Sammy soon becomes obsessive about film and does whatever he can to get hold of a film camera that he can use to start making movies. He makes movies about his life, his family and his day to day and slowly captures the heartbreak that seems to be slowly building around him. Slowly we see his passion for film grow, even in the face of constantly moving or the difficulties of being a teenager which threaten to derail a promising career.
If you were to compare The Fabelmans to Spielberg’s other films, in terms of entertainment value I’m not sure if this would be even in the top 10 (though that’s mostly because Spielberg has made so many great films that even his Oscar darlings could be considered a mid-tier film in his filmography). It’s a very ponderous film, an examination of the man behind the camera who is just barely willing to be critical enough of his own family for the audience to see a peek at what makes the man tick. However, on a technical level this is some off Spielberg’s best stuff. It’s like his entire career has been building to this film, if this were the last thing Spielberg ever made it would be a perfect capper to a legendary career.
Every single Spielbergism that you could associate with the legendary director’s work is here, you can literally go through the list of his trademarks on IMDB and you will find every single one used here to perfection. His years of perfecting his craft has allowed him to throw it all in here, his skills as a director at their absolute peak so he can use it all to tell a sweet little story about a kid who wants to make movies. Not only does he have the ability to really make sure every element of the story is being told properly, but the more the film goes you can almost feel Spielberg pulling out fancier tricks almost in time with Sammy becoming a more proficient filmmaker (down to the final shot which is a gloriously meta moment where the film reframes itself specifically to show something Sammy learns).
It’s an incredibly sweet and sentimental ride for the Fabelmans, even with the moments where Spielberg delves into the more difficult moments of his personal life. It can’t be easy to have to basically direct your own parents’ divorce but Spielberg does it in a way that feels honest about the situation, along with having to recreate elements of high school antisemitism or just general heartache, Spielberg’s ability to delve into these moments of his personal history (the parts that are true at least, some of this is certainly changed for dramatic/comedic effect) and do it without bitterness is something that is admirable and keeps The Fabelmans light and joyful.
What’s also helping is that these actors are completely going for broke with these performances, delivering that trademark Spielbergian charm that just kind of works no matter what. Everyone manages to envelop themselves in these characters in ways that are impossible to look away from… Ok maybe Seth Rogen stands out in a negative way but that’s largely just because Seth Rogen is mostly personality at this point and it’s hard not to just see Seth instead of a character. Everyone else, particularly the Oscar-nominated Michelle Williams and Judd Hirsch, is delivering absolutely brilliant performances.
The Fabelmans might not be the best Spielberg, but it’s the purest Spielberg you will ever come across. It’s just 100% pure Spielberg injected straight into your bloodstream with nothing cut with it to lower the impact. It’s a bright well-made look into the life and influences of one of the greatest directors of all time, for film fans this is an undeniable must-see film that will have you understanding the legendary filmmaker a little better.
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