The Fabelmans

Verdict: The Fabelmans is an extraordinary and unexpectedly honest portrait of Steven Spielberg's childhood

  • Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Paul Dano
  • January 27th 2023
  • Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg brings us a deeply personal story about his imperfect childhood with The Fabelmans.

Steven Spielberg has made a career out of big blockbuster adventure movies, so The Fabelmans, a personal family drama, is quite the gear change.

The semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story follows Sammy Fabelman (mostly Gabriel LaBelle) as he discovers his love for movies growing up in New Jersey with his parents – electrical engineer Burt (Paul Dano) and pianist-turned-housewife Mitzi (Michelle Williams) – and three sisters.

We follow teenage Sammy as he makes increasingly ambitious short films with his family and friends and finds solace in movie-making amid troubles at home, as he finds out a shocking secret about his mother.

The Fabelmans is a very different kind of Spielberg film. He has dispensed with the aliens, sharks, and dinosaurs and brought us a domestic story that hits extremely close to home.

You would not expect a seasoned blockbuster director to create something so deeply personal, introspective, and honest.

It is surprising that he wanted to tell a story – which he co-wrote with Tony Kushner – that didn’t present his late parents in the best light.

The standout scenes in The Fabelmans are those involving Spielberg, erm Sammy, shooting his movies on an 8mm camera, and Sammy having honest conversations with his unhappy mother.

At two-and-a-half hours, the film might feel too long for some while others might want it to continue for longer and show Sammy growing up and starting his professional career.

However, it ends on a humorous, hopeful note and we all know how his story pans out.

Williams has been nominated for an Oscar for her performance as an unsatisfied housewife and the nod is well deserved. Mitzi is larger-than-life when she is “on” but deeply sad in small, unguarded moments.

Dano is well cast as Mitzi’s solid, steady opposite, Seth Rogen proves his dramatic chops as Burt’s best friend Bennie and Julia Butters stands out as Sammy’s sister Reggie.

LaBelle does a good job in the lead role but he is outshone by his co-stars.

Judd Hirsch scored an Oscar nomination for his swift but memorable appearance as Uncle Boris while David Lynch helps the film go out with a bang in his cameo as director John Ford.

The Fabelmans isn’t quite the masterpiece it’s been labelled as, however, it is still an extraordinary portrait of Spielberg’s family life.

In cinemas from Friday 27th January.

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