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the fabelmans


starring: gabriel labelle, michelle williams, paul dano and seth rogen

REVIEWER: lyall carter

Growing up in post-World War II era Arizona, young Sammy Fabelman aspires to become a filmmaker as he reaches adolescence, but soon discovers a shattering family secret and explores how the power of films can help him see the truth.

The Fabelmans are a middle class Jewish family living in the American suburbs in the middle of the 20th century. Their family’s matriarch, Mitzi (Michelle Williams), is a former concert pianist who became a homemaker and piano teacher who is filled with life, excitement, and creativity. Burt, the patriarch (Paul Dano), is a scientist who works for various tech companies, who is quiet and considerate. One night, Mitzi and Burt take their eight-year-old son Sammy (Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord) to his first film at the cinema: The Greatest Show on Earth.

Sammy becomes obsessed with the spectacular finale of the film: a horrendous train crash. His mother thinks that the scene has frightened him, but then Sammy asks for a train set, recreating the scene from The Greatest Show on Earth and filming it using his father’s camera. So begins a lifelong love of filmmaking as Sammy sets out to create elaborate films all while growing up and dealing with growing family tensions.

Steven Spielberg is a legend, his name synonymous with cinema. Not only has he crafted a raft of classic films from Jurassic Park to Schindler's List (both remarkably released in the same year), but he completely changed the film industry in the way he shot films, created the ‘summer blockbuster’, and made more serious films accessible to a wide range of audience among many other achievements. And so it was only a matter of time before we got to see his story on the big screen. 

The Fabelmans is kind of autobiographical (names and some details changed) but at its very heart The Fabelmans is a family drama that explores the cost of the pursuit of art. There are little human sub dramas happening throughout too from Mitzi’s parking of her dream to start a family and Burt’s realization and frustration with the kind of person he is. In an interview for this film Spielberg said that he remembers when he realised that his mother was a person, and not just his mother. And that’s here, as the film progresses. It’s a coming of age story as Sammy realises that the world isn’t as rose tinted as he first thought. 

There is a scene where Sammy’s Uncle Burt (played by the wonderful Judd Hirsch) gives an impassioned speech about the cost of art on the artist’s relationships and life. It’s superb and hits at the theme and question running through the film: the pursuit of the creative will cost you; is it truly worth it? The film is a love letter to film with packed cinemas, the creativity that Sammy uses to make his films, and the joy he gets watching his audience react to his creations. Truly beautiful. 

A love letter to the art form of cinema in all of its purity, The Fabelmans is also an engrossing family drama with a superb ensemble cast.


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