Steven Spielberg goes all-in on the deeply personal The Fabelmans

You can’t rock a cat without stumbling across the director’s semi-autobiographical story about their childhood. Also don’t download cats.

The old adage about writing what you know has been echoed in the last few years as filmmakers use their own memories, feelings and sometimes trauma to create intimate, personal cinema.


Last year it was Kenneth Branagh’s black and white nostalgia. Belfast or the raucous fun of Paul Thomas Anderson licorice pizza.

This season only James Gray Time of ArmageddonCharlotte Wells after the sunMia Hanson-Love One fine morning and Alejandro G. Iñárritu bardo they are all based on the experience of their creators.

But the one who gets the most attention will be Fabelmans, a half-fictional memoir of Steven Spielberg, perhaps still the most famous director in the world. Ask the average English-speaking gamer to name a director, and in most cases, Spielberg’s name will be the first thing that comes to mind.


And Spielberg is known and loved for a reason, as he has established himself as one of the most respected visual storytellers of his and every generation with the likes of Jaws, ET and Saving Private Ryan.


The story of Spielberg’s own deep love of cinema, of making films with his friends as a young man, is part of the narrative of his talent. Fabelmans only adds to this myth-making the idea that Spielberg will always be the artist he has become.

It’s a beautiful, tender, and emotionally complex film that pays homage to his parents, but also provides their humanity through their flaws and flaws. It evokes memories of time and place and, most importantly, the whirlpools of teenage emotions, longing for what’s next and desperately clinging to what is.


Spielberg’s on-screen avatar is Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel Labelle as a teenager, Mateo Zorion Francis-DeFord as a child), the son of pianist Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and computer engineer Bert (Paul Dano).

The first movie that Mitzi and Bert take Sammy in, The Greatest Show on Earthand he is immediately captivated by the spectacle at the picture house. After asking for a Hanukkah train, Sammy recreates the famous crash scene by filming it with his father’s 8mm camera.

It brings out something in him, and by the time the family moved to Arizona for Burt’s career, he had made a ton of films with his three sisters serving as his repertory group.

Sammy’s creative aspirations draw a clear line between the character and the famous director that Spielberg would become. Sammy creates carefully crafted stories inspired by the likes of John Ford and David Lean. He is creative and smart, resourceful and purposeful – already a great storyteller.


But nostalgia is a double-edged sword, and the Fabelmans’ coming-of-age story slips on both sides. Sammy’s triumph is intertwined with the drama of his parents’ relationship with each other and with him.

As Jon Hamm’s character Don Draper remarked in one of MadmenNostalgia for the most iconic Kodak Carousel scenes also refers to the pain of memory, to old wounds that haven’t quite healed yet, and to homesickness and the past.


Spielberg has previously spoken about wanting to make a film about his childhood, but was wary of his parents’ reaction. His mother Leah died in 2017 and his father Arnold died in 2020. Fabelmans pulsates with a son’s love for his parents.

But this love is not pure pink. There is clarity here about the demons that haunted his lineage and how those issues have changed the lives of him and his sisters.

Williams and Dano are excellent, especially Williams, who eclipsed Mitzi as a man with unfulfilled ambitions, the heart of an artist, and the pain of a man who longed for something – and someone – more. This is a deeply compassionate performance created by a director with clear personal interests.

IN many respects, Fabelmans it’s as much Mitzi’s story as Sammy’s story, or Leah’s story as well as Steven’s story.

And it’s vividly captured on 35mm film by Spielberg’s frequent cinematographer Janusz Kaminsky, whose warm tones evoke all those intoxicating memories, and John Williams’ music adds emotional weight to it.

Even though the wealth of all these semi-autobiographical stories is in the hands of talented filmmakers, there is something special about them. Fabelmanswhich has a scale both in history and craft.

After all this time at the peak of his talent, Spielberg found that he could return home again.

Rating: 4/5

Fabelmans is in theaters now

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