The Fabelmans

By Joanna Langfield

Steven Spielberg’s confessional is an elegant, compassionate and often funny counterpoint. Far more than just a memory of a great artist’s development, this autobiographical piece balances that story of beginnings with the realities of the endings that surrounded him.

Young Sammy (a wonderful Gabriel LaBelle) is an undeniable filmmaker. His scientist father worries, hoping it’s just a hobby. But Mother Mitzi knows a fellow artist when she sees one and encourages Sammy to do what maybe she could not.  As Sammy perseveres, he discovers not just his own talent, but, also, the power of film: its truth, along with its impact.

Maybe it’s a touch long, maybe some will miss the easy magic Spielberg has brought to earlier works. But he, along with creative partner Tony Kushner, take few shortcuts. They tell it like it is (or was), in ways that are creatively stunning. There is one, wordless, sequence, in which Sammy’s life changes forever, that took my breath away.  Others, more traditional, involving the anti-Semitism Sammy faced in high school, are forthright and as crucial to be seen now as they were, when they happened, some 60 years ago.

What I, a mother of a son, was unprepared for was the relationship we see here between Mitzi and Sammy. Primal, complex and undeniably loving, the scenes between the fascinating Michelle Williams and LaBelle are the intricate heartbeat of the film. But appreciation too for players Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Julia Butters, Chloe East, Jeannie Berlin and the scene stealing Judd Hirsch who, with this and the equally marvelous Showing Up, is having quite the year.

This could not have been an easy film for Spielberg to make, but I, for one, am so glad he did. Allowing us a peek into a life kept pretty personal for all these years might be irresistible for fans. It also feels like a deep sigh of relief. One that might resonate for many of us.