November 21, 2022

CINEMA | Spielberg's Home Movies – 'The Fabelmans' x TIFF 2022

"Movies are dreams that you never forget."
Michelle Williams Gabriel LaBelle | Steven Spielberg's The Fabelmans
Toronto International Film Festival
Steven Spielberg has finally made a film directly about his dysfunctional family, growing up (sans aliens this time), and the power of cinema. Essentially a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale about his own childhood in New Jersey, Arizona, and later Northern California, The Fabelmans memorializes his Jewish parents raising a film-loving brat while struggling with their own desires as adults.

Gabriel LaBelle (with Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord as his younger counterpart) stars as Spielberg's analogue, Sammy, and captures an innocent of artistic yearning so poignantly. Michelle Williams and Paul Dano co-star wondrously as Sammy's loving but mismatched Jewish parents who juggle raising four young kids while encouraging their curious pursuits to keep their family together. How the family's struggles influences young Sammy's sense of imagination is so artfully conceived.

The Fabelmans is a 150-minute memory shot so vividly in a dreamlike sense of reflection on the past but without too much nostalgic reverence. Both Seth Rogen and Judd Hirsch play small but pivotal roles as key influences on Sammy's burgeoning cinematic talents. There are so many little details from character interactions, home movies, camping trips, school dances, and touchstones that act so wonderfully as slices of memories looking back.

Gabriel LaBelle Michelle Williams Paul Dano | Steven Spielberg's The Fabelmans
Universal Pictures / Amblin Entertainment
Scripted by Spielberg (his first screenplay credit since 2001's A.I.:Artificial Intelligence) and his frequent collaborator, playwright Tony Kushner, the film evokes a more dramatic version of something like Back to the Future (also a Spielberg production) without the time travel element in the sense it's a film about a son understanding his parents as adults and people of their own while growing up in mid-century coastal America. There are even similar bullies and a themed dance in the final act that provide a strong vibe to the not-so-innocent time during the birth of modern teenage identity.

Spielberg crafts a beautiful and painfully honest portrait of his Jewish-American family balanced with his growing love for filmmaking and cinema. The Fabelmans is full of hard personal truths about marriage, infidelity, divorce, and artistic pursuits. It's told with such reverence and understanding for its characters, especially for Williams' conception of Spielberg's free-spirited mother. It feels both so real and imagined all at the same time.

The Fabelmans premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Special Presentations program.


More | YVArcade / Indiewire / Polygon / ScreenCrush

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