New from Kevin Wozniak on Kevflix: Movie Review: The Fabelmans

You would think that after having made some of the most iconic and successful films of all time over the last fifty years, it would be a tough task to continue to impress the audience and try something new. That would be the case for most directors, but not Steven Spielberg, who is continuously pushing himself as a director. In 2021, he dove into the musical genre with his bright and lively vision of West Side Story, and this year, Spielberg made The Fabelmans, a semi-autobiographical look at his life growing up.

The Fabelmans begins in the winter of 1952 when a young Sammy Fabelman (Mateo Zoryan) is about to see The Greatest Show on Earth at a movie theater with his parents Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and Burt (Paul Dano). Sammy, terrified to go in, is reassured by both of his parents that everything will be okay. His mother, an artist herself and the emotional center of the family, brings up the emotional and the spectacle aspects of the film, telling Sammy that, “movies are dreams that you never forget.” His father, a seemingly no-nonsense computer technician, explains to him the technical aspect of how movies, projectors, and cameras work. 

In the theater, there is a giant train crash that shocks and traumatizes Sammy. He can’t sleep and he is constantly seeing this train crash. Mitzi decides the best way to get over this traumatic experience is to keep watching it, so they recreate the crash using model trains and young Sammy watches it constantly, helping him get over a fear that deeply traumatized him. This moment would change everything.

L to R: Paul Dano, Michelle Williams, and Seth Rogen in The Fabelmans (Universal)
L to R: Paul Dano, Michelle Williams, and Seth Rogen in The Fabelmans (Universal)

The film then cuts forward several years and we are introduced to a teenage Sammy (Gabrielle LaBelle). He is a precocious teen who is obsessed with making movies and is already making epic westerns and war films. We watch as Sammy creates movies, from fictional movies with his friends to a high school beach party, and uses these movies to handle traumatic elements in his life, like his parents debilitating marriage or a bully at school. We also see his relationship with his parents, as he holds the burden of his mother’s infidelity in his hands despite her constant support while also trying to prove to his father that his filmmaking is more than just a silly hobby.

Spielberg hasn’t been shy about his life growing up. He has openly talked about his parent’s divorce, how he wasn’t a good student in school because he was obsessed with making movies, and how the antisemitism he had to deal with growing up made him feel like an outsider. We’ve seen elements of this in films throughout his career, most notably in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., and Catch Me If You Can. But The Fabelmans brings all this to the forefront and shows us how Spielberg took his trauma and morphed it into cinema. Whether it was recreating a train crash from The Greatest Show on Earth that kept a young Sammy Fabelman awake at night, capturing his mother’s affair on a family camping trip, or photographing his high school bully in a way that made him look superhuman, Spielberg shows us how he made movies as a coping mechanism and how it helped him convey all of his bottled-up emotions.

Like all Spielberg movies, The Fabelmans is immaculately made and constructed with perfect performances by Dano, Williams, Seth Rogen, a scene-stealing Judd Hirsch, and LaBelle, in one of the breakout performances of the year.  But it’s the emotion Spielberg brings to the film that makes it another great one in the director’s filmography. Spielberg wears his heart on his sleeve and gives us a beautiful movie about channeling trauma into art, the relationship we have with our parents, and following our passions. It’s outstanding work from the 76-year-old Oscar winner and a film, unlike anything he has ever made before.

 

 

 

 

 

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