Movie Review: The Fabelmans (2022)

Welcome to the Young Steven Spielberg Chronicles, where the proverbial alien is a spouse in a loveless marriage, the cliffhanger action revolves around how quickly one can thwart high school bullies and where home movies captured for the screen can reflect destiny profoundly. Spielberg directs and co-writes his own autobiography as a coming of age drama, changing his family name to The Fabelmans (A-) as one mildly manipulative way to keep tiny flickers of details privately veiled. The film is a rich origin story of an auteur-in-training shaped in unequal measures by his drive to make movies and his reckoning with his formerly fantasy world parents becoming increasingly estranged. Gabriel LaBelle is fully convincing in the central role, often opposite Michelle Williams as his dreamer mom, in an effectively showy and emotional performance. All actors are wonderful including Paul Dano as the pragmatic dad who can fix everything but his family and Judd Hirsch as a scene-stealing uncle who’s a former silent film actor and circus showman and a certain real-life director with some sage advice. Spielberg’s greatest filmmaking gifts are all on display here: depicting wide-eyed wonder, pivoting from triumph to dread within the same sequence and contemplating Big Issues while consistently conjuring entertaining imagery. Strangely, the only underwhelming elements are John Williams’s pretty but subtle score and the mostly perfunctory films-within-the-film. Overall this work is a glorious making of a man with unexpected intrigue. With a lofty screenplay, Spielberg’s co-writer Tony Kushner elevates the tale to the stuff of legend, and in the process the director himself has made a really great Steven Spielberg movie.

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