Fabelmans review: Spielberg packs his magic into telling his own story

This review of Fabelman’s house was originally published in conjunction with its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. It has been updated and re-posted for a theatrical release.

At the heart of nearly every Steven Spielberg film is the spirit of a young boy still grieving over his parents’ divorce, writing about his grief in the vast sandbox of cinema. You can see that child’s pain unconsciously overflowing in the father and son quarrel scene in the movie. Close encounters of the third type. It arose in the family dynamics of ET: aliens. And it grows in Catch me if you can, when Frank Abagnale sought refuge at his mother’s second family home. But Spielberg never approached his own childhood as candidly as in his semi-autobiographical film. Fabelman family, one of the best movies of 2022 so far.

First words about Fabelmans makes it look like Spielberg has joined the trend of cinematic origin stories, this time focusing on his own personal origins. But his crowd-pleasing coming-of-age story doesn’t fit in that box, or anything else. It’s a deeply personal story, not at all an autobiography, the most successful replay of his career, or a cliché tribute to filmmaking. It’s a vulnerable approach to his past, designed to heal a wound that seems to still be as tender as the day it opened decades ago, despite the drama’s outburst. Humor and measured reflections are on display.

Sometimes, Fabelman’s house feels like an idealized dream about what could have happened to him, which often goes beyond the boundaries of the real world and the pure anger he must have felt as a boy of divorced parents. This is not a confession story. It grants real-world characters a much-needed grace, grace that people only find after stepping out onto the other side of a life of processing. And it embodies a brand of ingenuity — from deliberate containment to skillful, controlled camera movements — that only happens when you, ah, Steven Spielberg. Above all, it is the director’s sympathetic message to his mother.

Sammy (Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord) gapes in surprise as he watches the movie, sitting between his father Burt (Paul Dano) and mother Mitzi (Michelle Williams), who always has a knowing smile on his head in The Fabelmans

Photo: Universal Pictures

Spielberg again worked with Tony Kushner (his collaborator in West Side Story, Lincolnand Munich) for script development. Their story begins with Burt (Paul Dano, in a great performance) and Mitzi Fabelman (Michelle Williams, in a stop-shot) bringing their young son Sammy (Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord in the early scenes) ) and Gabriel LaBelle in teenage scenes. ) to the cinema of Cecil B. DeMille The biggest show on earth. The images emanating from the screen dazzled and stimulated Sammy. And a fiery shipwreck, in which a car is rammed through, blood gushes out and explosions fill the air, frightens him so much that he plays the scene over and over again. obsessively with his toy train.

To reassure his son, Mitzi lends Sammy his dad’s camera so he can film one of the toy train crashes as a way to face his fears. What Mitzi really does, though, is ignite a therapeutic love for filmmaking, creating a lens that will become Sammy’s tool for trying to understand the world.

Sammy’s universe isn’t that complicated. Burt is a brilliant, workaholic computer engineer and Mitzi is a trained, free-spirited pianist. Sammy has three older sisters: Reggie (Julia Butters), Natalie (Keeley Karsten) and Lisa (Sophia Kopera). The New Jersey home where they all lived was the perfect incubator for Sammy’s imagination. In their close-knit Jewish community, they follow Jewish traditions, share their cultural humour, and are regularly visited by relatives. (This is an extremely Jewish movie.) They also hang out with Burt’s best friend and co-worker, Bennie Loewy (Seth Rogen), a man who appears to be completely supportive of the pair, but one day. His flaws can destroy the family. In building the forced support system enjoyed by the Fabelman family in their neighborhood, Spielberg and Kushner’s solid script reveals the rifts that form after the family leaves their familiar confines.

Burt is ambitious and selfish. First, he uprooted the whole family and moved them to Arizona. Then he picked up the stick and headed for Northern California. The further his family moved west, the further Sammy moved away from his family and his roots – which brought him closer to his passion for art. This initial setup, which consumes the first hour of this 151-minute personal essay, proceeds at a slow pace, with the initial thesis disorienting. How much part does Spielberg have in Sammy? How much of what we are seeing is fiction? Why is this not named? Spielberg’s family to save people headaches?

Teenager Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) grins as he points a large camcorder at something off-screen while the adults behind him smile and cheer in The Fabelmans

Photo: Universal Pictures

In one scene, Sammy and his Eagle Scout teammates sneak into a movie set. It says that John Ford’s The man who shot Liberty Valance playing. The film, starring Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, centers on a local senator who recounts his rise to power fueled by a myth that he shot dead a famous outlaw. , when in fact it is not. It’s a film about myth, reinvention, and the American West as a must-have backdrop to create your own identity. Fabelman’s house works in a similar fashion: It’s not a pacing origin story, but an opportunity for Spielberg to reshape the past without the burden of his own name.

It also allows him to re-access the memory of his mother. In many ways, Sammy and Mitzi are exactly alike. Burt considers their passion for art a hobby. And Mitzi, in particular, has spent years setting aside her creative goals in favor of her husband’s burgeoning career. In the words of Mitzi’s uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch, who absolutely crushes one of his scenes), she can play anywhere for any symphony. Instead, she became a mother. Now, she and Sammy are looking to transcend Burt’s idiosyncrasies. But the once close bond between mother and son is shattered when Sammy learns a disturbing secret about Mitzi (in sequence elegantly assembled by Fabelmans editors Sarah Broshar and Michael Kahn) caused him to temporarily lose his passion for filmmaking.

Make no mistake, however, Fabelman’s house is not boring. A whimsical dance visually on the screen. Janusz Kaminski’s well-calibrated track shots and brilliant cinematography set the standard for creativity. References to Spielberg’s biggest hits added an extra introduction to his own career. The scenes where Sammy first shot simple short films, then moved on to self-produced war movies of the right size, were compelling enough to make entire audiences want to start making amateur films. And at Sammy’s new Los Angeles high school, he falls in love with a Christian girl, Monica (Chloe East), whose attempt to convert Sammy causes riotous prayers to double as euphemisms. language.

Bennie Loewy (Seth Rogen), Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano) and Mitzi Fabelman (Michelle Williams), ride in front of a backdrop of white hanging bedspreads as several people turn away from the camera in The Fabelmans

Photo: Universal Pictures

However, the feeling of betrayal that a child feels after a divorce drives this film. That’s where LaBelle shines as teenage Sammy. He didn’t just imitate Spielberg’s speech rhythm and body language. He goes above and beyond mere pretense by portraying Sammy as the dull, sedentary and stupid street kid first, and Spielberg second. Nowhere does it feel more than when Sammy confronts her anti-Semitic bullies with the power of theatrical experience. This is a movie that really loves people watching: It loves the inner intrigues, hypnotic scares, and revealed truths that happen when people see themselves on screen. LaBelle sets the stage for these scenes with a sincerity, not at all ridiculous but exhilarating and contagious.

And while LaBelle was great on his own, he discovered another level playing opposite a tempered Williams and a delicate yet powerful Dano. (The character completed here is one of his best.) Williams, as a stuck housewife, gave a freehand performance that could be considered brilliant. imaginable in its rawness and vibrancy, if she didn’t succeed. Williams perfectly embodies what it feels like to be a woman about to tear herself apart, until she remembers that it’s not. she dreams or happiness need to be chopped.

But Spielberg has a fresh tactic by making sure not to paint Burt or Mitzi as outright villains. They are complex people with inescapable needs that they cannot meet together. This is Sammy understanding the ambiguity of adulthood. This is Spielberg accepting it, so he can consider his mother a valid person in her own right.

Towards the end of the film – which includes an overly hilarious cameo that David Lynch portrays as John Ford – Sammy skips a studio knowing that his troubles are behind him and his future lies ahead. before. Fabelman’s house is Spielberg applying his vast filmmaking knowledge to craft a story whose entire heart is pinned on the screen. It’s a beautiful, evocative and enchanting blockbuster making, perfectly tailored to remind viewers of the power that can be in a film.

Fabelman’s house will hit theaters on November 23.

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