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The Fabelmans ★★★★★



Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Gabrielle LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, David Lynch, Julia Butters

Released: 27th January 2023

Love letters to Cinema and directors dissecting their childhoods have been on the rise in recent years, be it Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light, Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast or James Gray’s Armageddon Time and Damien Chazelle’s Babylon. Few Directors are as intertwined with the development of Modern Cinema as Steven Spielberg, and his latest love letter, The Fabelmans, based on his childhood in Phoenix, Arizona and California and how he became obsessed with the industry that he would become a legend in.

The Fabelmans stars Gabrielle LaBelle as Sammy Fableman, our Steven Spielberg with Michelle Williams as Mitzi, his doting mother, a talented Pianist who sees something of herself in Sammy as he pursues his love of the Arts. Paul Dano is his father, Burt, who has a more strained relationship with Sammy and struggles at times to support his budding hobby. Seth Rogen rounds the cast out as Bennie, a close friend of Sammy’s parents. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’s Julia Butters further cements herself as a fine young talent as Sammy’s sister Regina. There are brief appearances from Judd Hirsch and David Lynch as an iconic Director who offers Sammy some advice on how to crack the industry.

Being from Spielberg, this film has drummed up more interest than other films of its ilk. It has earned several accolades and nominations, nominated for 7 Oscars, including Best Picture and Director and Best Actress for Michelle Williams. It’s not hard to see why; this is easily his most personal picture to date, driven by the recent death of his father, and it does a stunning job recreating the era of his youth with some stunning sequences as we see Sammy shooting films as a boy scout including a Western-inspired by seeing The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. In contrast, an early sequence involving recreating the train crash from The Greatest Show on Earth is joyous.

Sammy filming his school’s Ditch Day, with footage shown at Prom, is another highlight capturing the joy and innocence of his classmates and showing the quick way he could transfix an audience even at such an early age.

There are several sometimes subtle nods to Spielberg’s films; with so many of his films influenced by his childhood, it’s not hard to see where he drew some of the influences from. Some of the moments recall Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park, The Last Crusade and E.T.  The score comes from John Williams, who first worked with Spielberg in 1974 and has become a key component of his success. It feels only fitting that he is on hand to attract us once again here.

Cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, who has worked with Spielberg for 30 years, crafts a stunning-looking picture capturing the joy of Sammy in the world of moving pictures and capturing the shift from New Jersey to rugged Arizona and eventually California. He can perhaps feel hard done by to miss out on an Oscar nomination of his own.

The cast excels at capturing a splintered family that forges Sammy’s drive to make movies. Paul Dano as the more reserved, scientifically minded Burt, frequently butting heads with Mitzi with Michelle Williams’ beguiling turn as Sammy’s mother, LaBelle does the difficult job of capturing the young Spielberg, not just being a good likeness physically but capturing his pent up frustration and obsession over all things Cinema, be it the latest Camera and editing equipment.

The Fabelmans is a late-career masterpiece from Spielberg, not just his most personal film. Still, one of his best in several years captured why we fall in love with the movies with a tender, funny, and at times heartbreaking film showing the joy of falling in love with the arts but also the impact of loss and the strains from a displaced and unhappy family. It shows there is still plenty of life in one of Cinema’s greatest storytellers, and with this stunning film, let’s see where he goes next.

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