By Patrick Edwards, Second Year, Film
Throughout cinema history, there has been no shortage of films about the magic of cinema. This award season we have had multiple, with Damien Chazelle’s Babylon (2022) and, the topic of this review, Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans (2022). The Fabelmans is a return to form for director and co-writer Spielberg, a genuinely wonderful and expertly crafted family film full of the whimsy and occasional corniness we’ve come to love from Spielberg.
In the semi-autobiographical The Fabelmans, we follow Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) throughout his youth in the 1950s. We chronicle his early childhood, school life and the ever-present in his life, his love of filmmaking. However, the main crux of the film is on Sammy’s parents, Burt and Mitzi Fabelman (Paul Dano and Michelle Williams), as the film explores their dysfunctional marriage.
The Fabelmans is a deeply personal film to Spielberg, which is not only evident from the semi-autobiographical nature of the film’s screenplay but also from his expert direction. Every aspect of The Fabelmans is precisely crafted, with every shot being masterfully thought out by Spielberg and his director of photography Janusz Kaminski.
The highlight is how the film frames the deterioration of Burt’s and Mitzi’s marriage, with a certain medium shot towards the end that has stuck with me since I saw it.
The filmmaking also contributes to the humour of the film. It is not only Spielberg’s most personal but also one of his funniest. Most of the jokes are presented with camera movement, with the final shot being one of the funniest uses of the camera I’ve seen.
Spielberg places much emphasis on the importance of editing in The Fabelmans; there are countless sequences of Sammy editing his 8mm and 16mm films, some of which lead to the most significant revelation in the film. It explores the reshaping of memories that editing can give Sammy.
It offers us a vital insight into Spielberg’s reasoning for making the film, as it feels as if Spielberg is reliving and remaking his childhood in the way he would make his 8mm and 16mm films.
Despite this wish fulfilment element, Spielberg doesn’t show his parents in a particularly flattering light, which acts as a contradiction to the film's more schmaltzy moments. Paul Dano gives a wonderfully reserved performance as the science-focused engineer and somewhat emotionally absent Burt Fabelman.
In sharp contrast, Michelle Williams portrays Mitzi Fabelman as over-the-top in a very bombastic performance. It’s a brilliant, albeit unsubtle, contrast, as we are told within the first few minutes of the outcome of this marriage.
There is also a fantastic cameo towards the end of the film, which I will not ruin here, but in their brief screen time, they give a performance that all cinema lovers will adore.
The Fabelmans manages to capture so much in its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. Spielberg really opens himself up to the audience with this film in a way he hasn’t done for a long time. And while it can be slightly melodramatic at times, Spielberg puts his heart and soul into every frame, which is only appropriate for a film with these themes of passion, and it leaves you with a love for cinema and an understanding of the significance it has to the great director.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment on IMDB
How would you compare The Fabelmans to other Spielburg films?