Yesterday marked the beginning of Hanukkah this year and it was also the birthday of the greatest filmmaker to ever live, Steven Spielberg. From his early beloved films (such as Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)) to his modern masterpieces (such as Lincoln (2012), The Post (2017), and West Side Story (2021)) and everything in between, Spielberg has been at the very forefront of the cinematic artform. Everyone has a favorite Spielberg film—his movies are timeless and are beloved by all generations. While Steven Spielberg has gifted the world with his storytelling, I believe his newest film, The Fabelmans (2022), is the first time that Spielberg has made something for himself. It is perhaps his most personal and vulnerable film to date as it is loosely based on his own life, with how he fell in love with movies and his relationship with his parents. This incredible film has stuck with me ever since I saw it a couple of weeks ago, and in honor of the beginning of the Jewish holiday and the birthday of the virtuoso of cinema, I decided to hold my review of his latest masterpiece until today.
After his parents take him to see 1952’s The Greatest Show on Earth, Sammy Fabelman (younger played by Mateo Zoryan and older played by Gabriel Labelle) fell in love with movies. Enamored with the train crash from the film, Sammy asks his mother (played by Michelle Williams) and his father (played by Paul Dano) for model train cars for Hanukkah. Despite his father’s wishes, Sammy recreates and films his own train crash, and after seeing his artistic eye, his mother buys him his first camera. From this moment, The Fabelmans follows Sammy as he grows more and more talented in his craft. As Sammy grows and begins to create his own short films, he begins to uncover the strained relationship between his logical minded father and his musically inclined mother.
From the opening scenes of the movie with young Sammy going to the theater for the first time and falling in love with movies, you can tell that this is going to be a personal and emotional story. Steven Spielberg’s direction never fails, but combine his skills with a story derived from his own life and the creation is spectacular. Every shot in this film is intentional and filled to the brim with emotion, imagery, and nuance. At times it definitely feels like Spielberg is patting himself on the back, but when you are the greatest of all time, you get a pass for doing it in a movie about yourself. The story being based on his relationship with his parents makes the plot all the more marvelous. I loved every single plot point in this movie, and I think this film’s story makes this the Spielberg film that I connect with most. What really lifts all the emotional beats though, is John Williams’ score. Other than the upcoming Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023), this marks the end of Williams’ awe-inspiring career and his final collaboration with Spielberg (this being film thirty-one that they collaborated together). Between the story and score, the dynamic duo of movie making once again give us excellence.
The entire cast of this film is marvelous. All of the auxiliary cast (the actresses playing the sisters, the grandparents, classmates) does a great job of rounding out the world and giving it life, and they all do their job of accentuating the performances of the bigger roles. Paul Dano and Seth Rogen are both great throughout, with each causing you to constantly change how you view their characters. The two boys playing Sammy, Gabriel LaBelle and Mateo Zoryan, are the heart of this movie: the awe and wonder Zoryan brings and the conflicted love and passion that LaBelle brings forth in their performances create one of Spielberg’s most relatable and lovable characters to date. Watching these two boys on screen, I saw myself falling in love with movies for the first time, I saw some of my students who have artistic hearts and minds, I saw some of my students who have to shoulder a lot of family issues and not talk about it. The Sammy Fabelman character is meant to be Spielberg himself, but the way the performances and Spielberg’s direction brings the character to life, Sammy begins to represent all of us. While the boys were the heartbeat, the scene-stealer was Michelle Williams. Her portrayal as a artistic mind that is stuck in a rigid routine and marriage is heartbreaking to watch. Williams’ nuance in line delivery and expression was a masterclass, and I will be furious if she does not receive a Best Supporting Actress nomination this year.
While I believe The Fabelmans to be a near-perfect film, I could see where some would find issue with its pacing. This movie’s two hour and thirty minute runtime is definitely felt by the end of the film. I am definitely a person that enjoys long films, but with this being a very dramatic film with no big spectacles, even I thought the movie was too long. If The Fabelmans has a fault with me, its that the film needed a solid twenty minutes shaved off. That said, from the opening Hanukkah scenes to final shot, I loved every single scene in the film and feel like each one is important, so I don’t know what the editors could have possibly removed.
The Fabelmans (2022) once again proves that Steven Spielberg in the master when it comes to the art of making movies, and it was a delight to watch a film detailing how he grew to love and develop his craft. From its extremely personal plot, to its fantastic performances, to its beautiful direction, this film belongs in the conversation of possibly being a top five Spielberg film. I thoroughly love this film and if you have the opportunity to watch it in theaters or on VOD, I would whole-heartedly recommend it, particularly if you are wanting to watch a movie during the week of Hanukkah this year.
The Fabelmans (2022) is rated PG-13 for some strong language, thematic elements, brief violence and drug use.