Life & Culture

The Fablemans Film review: Rise of a cinema legend

Touching, inspiring and a genuinely thrilling story about Steven Spielberg's trajectory to greatness


Gabriel LaBelle in aThe Fabelmans

The Fabelmans
Cert: 12 A| ★★★★★

Steven Spielberg returns with his most personal project yet, his new film The Fabelmans, a fictionalised account of the multi-award-winning director’s own upbringing.

Starring young Jewish actor Gabriel LaBelle as Spielberg’s teenage alter-ego, Sammy, the film also features a breathtaking performance from Brokeback Mountain star Michelle Williams, who plays Mitzi Fabelman, Sammy’s mother.

The Fabelmans had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, where it won the People’s Choice Award, and it also did very well at the Golden Globes.

This week it received seven Oscar nominations, including one for Jewish actor Judd Hirsh, the star of classic Seventies sitcom Taxi.

Growing up in post-Second World War America, young Sammy Fabelman (played by Mateo Zoryan and later by Labelle) has learned that besides being the only Jews in the neighbourhood, his family isn’t like any other family.

His father Burt (Paul Dano), a respected engineer in early computing, dotes on Sammy’s mother Mitzi (Williams), a troubled musician who lives in her own world.

In his teens, burgeoning film director Sammy is moved by his family to rural Arizona to accommodate Burt’s new job.

There, Sammy is subjected to cruel antisemitic taunts by his school’s number one bully (played to perfection in the most classic Spielbergian coming-of- age style by Oakes Fegley).

Sammy soon finds a way to beat the bullies with the help of his newly acquired film-making skills. Meanwhile, a devastating family secret is about to transform Sammy and his sisters’ lives for ever.

Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner deliver a beautifully layered coming-of-age tale that is made even more poignant by the personal story it tells.

From ET to Schindler’s List, we’ve all grown up admiring the work of a man whose obsession with perfection has made him into the greatest living film-maker of this or any other time. It is this attention to detail and complete devotion to one’s calling that resides at the heart of this story.

Kushner and Spielberg’s ability to turn this very personal saga into a more universal story is what sets them apart from the rest.

Bolstered by some stunning performances courtesy of Williams, Dano, Labbelle and Judd Hirsch, who plays Sammy’s grand-uncle Boris, The Fabelmans is touching, inspiring and a genuinely thrilling story about one man’s trajectory to greatness.

It is one of my favourite films of the past 12 months, and deserves all the awards. I predict you’ll want to see it again and again.

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