Saturday, January 14, 2023

REVIEW: The Fabelmans


When we think of Steven Spielberg, we often exclusively associate him with blockbuster spectacles like "Jaws", "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial" and "Jurassic Park". But some of his best work has come from more grounded efforts like "Lincoln" and "Munich". And after many decades in the business, the 76-year old icon has delivered his most personal work yet in the autobiographical and altogether wonderful drama "The Fabelmans".

Spielberg uses "The Fabelmans" to tell the origin story of his illustrious career through the eyes of his surrogate Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle). We meet him in the year 1952, as his close-knit Jewish family is enjoying a night at the movies to watch "The Greatest Show on Earth". At once traumatized and mesmerized by its train crash scene, the experience has a profound effect on the 6-year old. With the seed planted for his newfound obsession, we then follow Sammy as he hones his skills into early adulthood, while dealing with the tensions afflicting his nomadic family and the pains of growing up.

On the surface, "The Fabelmans" seems like a simple coming of ager - or more reductively, an ode to cinema. But in the Spielberg's hands, this is a tale filled with as much movie magic as his more heightened genre films. Throughout the relatively mundane slices of life, his visual language conveys the awe-inspiring wonder of everyday American life. From the kinetic thrill of chasing tornadoes, to the theatre of dinner table conversations, to a particularly memorable fireside dance, Spielberg's once again proves his directorial brilliance. Furthermore, he makes the central tensions like the death of a relative and infidelity feel just as earth-shattering as the doomsday scenarios of his epics.

Indeed, Spielberg's trademark artistry is on full display here. But what further makes "The Fabelmans" so successful is another hallmark of Spielberg's work - its beating heart. Through the humanist screenplay and a brilliant ensemble, the film is tremendously moving. Gabriel LaBelle shows immense promise in the lead role, holding his own alongside a captivating Michelle Williams in a wide-eyed, Judy Garland-esque performance as his mother, who shares his artistic inclinations. And LaBelle shares a different but equally sincere chemistry with Paul Dano in the father role, whose pragmatic engineering interests clash with the mother-son pair. And among the other supporting roles, Judd Hirsch is the epitome of a scene-stealer as Sammy's granduncle.

For any other filmmaker, "The Fabelmans" would serve as a magnum opus to their career. It's a testament to Spielberg's excellence that this is just another masterful addition to his filmography. But it's film that encompasses what makes all of his films so special. As we witness Sammy Fabelman's filmmaking journey, it emphatically reminds us of the joy of making and watching movies. 

1 comment: