Director: Steven Spielberg | 2h 31 mins | Drama
A young and aspiring filmmaker tries to navigate his childhood and chase his dreams, while his family begins to fall apart around him.
Over the past few years acclaimed Directors have reflected on their lives. Alfonso Cuarón took us on a thought-provoking journey through 1970’s Mexico with Roma, and more recently Kenneth Brannagh put his showy direction aside and showed us a more vulnerable part of his filmmaking in Belfast. Now it seems Steven Spielberg wants to tell his story, navigating his own childhood and reflecting on the relationship between his Mother and Father.
There is a fine line to work when exploring your own story as a Director, trying to avoid self-indulgence while giving a real reason for the story you’re telling. In Belfast Brannagh achieved this by giving his film a more political backdrop but The Fabelmans struggles to find that key element that separates the film from being indulgent. However, Spielberg remains the master at creating ‘movie magic’ – something he establishes in the early scenes of his biographical drama.
The first scene of the film sees fictional Sammy Fabelman on his first trip to the cinema with his parents, ultimately scared but also blown away by The Greatest Show on Earth. He then follows it by trying to film his own train crashes in order to control the fear, awakening an early connection to filmmaking. Watching that ‘wonder’ that young Sammy sees in these early scenes is intoxicating, seeing a love of cinema through the lens of a Director who is responsible for some of cinema’s most awe-inspiring moments is The Fabelmans’ most endearing quality.
As Sammy grows older and reaches his teens, the family follow their engineering Father from city to city as he climbs the ladder of his industry, unaware that his wife is longing for a life she has left behind. Spielberg and Tony Kushner’s script delicately translates the depression through the eyes of Sammy more so than his Mother, but Michelle Williams boldly steals the show multiple times playing a woman having to mask her pain with such a flamboyant facade.
Having said that though, The Fabelmans often wrestles more subjects than it can handle. The film is much more comfortable showing us the awe-inspiring filmmaking moments more so than anything else, and while the stories about depression, antisemitism and bullying are by no means brushed to one side, they merely dangle like loose threads at the bottom of the tapestry Spielberg is weaving.
This film is almost certain to be divisive, but as a love letter to cinema it still conjures some wonderfully crafted moments. The script sometimes dodges its harder subjects and the film may even verge on self-indulgence, but Spielberg remains the master of awe-inspiring cinema – showcasing some of his best techniques and reminding us why he’s sat at the top of Hollywood for so many years.