Steven Spielberg’s new film, The Fabelmans (2022), is the first time he tackles himself in a movie of his. Sam Fabelman (portrayed by Gabriel LaBelle as a teenager) discovers his love of movies and begins capturing everything on film. His mother, Mitzi Fabelman (Michelle Williams), and father, Burt (Paul Dano), were mostly supportive of this love and allowed him to explore his passion. However, it is through the lens that Sam discovers a devastating family secret, which leads him to see how films can lead to the truth.
Spielberg’s love of cinema comes through in this film, but the Fabelmans is far too personal to be a movie about movies. That element is certainly there, but it is more about how Sam uses the camera to make sense of the world. It gives him a language that he is able to understand things through – and at first, this is helpful. Later, it becomes overwhelming to Sam how much truth can be shown through the medium of film. Fans of Spielberg’s filmography and his trademarks will see nods to them in various moments in the film. At one point, young Sam is explaining his storyboard for a WWII film he is making with his Boy Scout troop, and he essentially describes the Spielberg Face. For film nerds, the scenes of young Sam cutting the film stock, assembling the pieces, and screening his films will hit the joyous overtones one would expect. Yet, this film is more than just a movie about movies.
At the heart of the Fabelmans is the idea that if you truly love something or someone, you can’t just walk away from it…no matter how much it hurts or breaks your heart, you can’t deny what is inside of you. Sam and Mitzy are the main thrust of this theme, and the way it parallels is compelling to watch. Avoiding spoilers in this review is important, but Judd Hirsch as Uncle Boris gets the powerhouse line, which is shown in the trailer (to a degree): “Art will give you crowns in heaven and laurels on Earth – but also…it will tear your heart out. Art is no game! Art is dangerous as a lion’s mouth. It’ll bite your head off.”
This film is made wonderfully in part by all of the performances. Williams, Dano, Hirsch – and especially LaBelle, whose lead performance is quite remarkable – are all outstanding. Seth Rogan plays “Uncle” Bennie and gives an incredibly restrained performance that is quite charming at times and powerful when it needs to be. The friendship dynamic with Benny, Burt, and Mitzy is crucial, and the chemistry between the three sells the story elements. All of the child actors – Sam’s sisters, his friends, and his bullies – are all quite great. However, the big stand-outs are his first high school girlfriend played by Chloe East, and the major bully played by Sam Rechner. East gets to deliver some of the best comedic moments in the film, while Rechner gives one of the most emotional ones.
Everything about the Fabelmans clicks. It is methodical in its delivery, and at its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, will likely get some complaints about it being overlong. However, for the fans of the form and the man who has brought us countless hours of entertainment, learning more about his mythos and how he became the legend he is today was endlessly compelling. The last sequence reveals a chance meeting with a filmmaking legend that made me lean forward in anticipation of the interaction. It did not disappoint. I was fully in from frame one and found watching this movie like having my favorite meal prepared by the world’s greatest chef. I enjoyed every last crumb, and The Fabelmans earned the Must See rating.