(2022) (Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams) (PG-13)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Drama: A movie-loving teen learns the power of filmmaking in dealing with various personal issues in his life.
Years after his parents -- classically trained pianist Mitzi (MICHELLE WILLIAMS) and TV repairman turned early computer pioneer Burt (PAUL DANO) -- took his six-year-old self (MATEO ZORYON FRANCIS-DeFORD) -- to see Cecil B. DeMille's "The Greatest Show on Earth" and unintentionally instilled a desire to make movies -- teenage Sammy Fabelman (GABRIEL LaBELLE) now does almost nothing but that. He uses his friends and sisters -- Natalie (KEELEY KARSTEN), Reggie (JULIA BUTTERS), and Lisa (SOPHIA KOPERA) -- as his cast, with his short films delighting his parents and Burt's best friend and business partner, Bennie Loewy (SETH ROGAN).
But Burt's burgeoning success in the computer world results in them moving, with Sammy having to contend with anti-Semitic bullies such as Logan Hall (SAM RECHNER) and Chad Thomas (OAKES FEGLEY), while ultra-Christian classmate Monica Sherwood (CHLOE EAST) finds herself enamored with Sam being Jewish. As he contends with that and his parents' rocky marriage, Sam comes to understand the power of filmmaking in emotionally affecting and manipulating others.
- OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
Back when I was in first or second grade, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor movie, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" aired on TV and my little brain was blown away. Not by the geopolitical elements or Washington failing to see -- or purposefully ignoring -- all the signs of an imminent attack that would draw America into WWII. But rather the action scenes that were unlike anything I had seen before.
So much so that I decided to recreate them frame by frame, albeit on just one piece of paper with my beloved crayons (yellow for fire, red for blood, and so on). I do have to say, the resultant stationary mayhem was pretty amazing in my humble, early elementary school opinion (I think I still have that piece of paper somewhere). But my teacher, without any other evidence, was fairly sure it was indicative of some sort of domestic issue going on at home and inquired about that. It wasn't, and I didn't learn about that until many years later, but my one-sheet creation was a clear sign of my love of movies and desire to create one.
In Steven Spielberg's latest film, "The Fabelmans," his young titular protagonist, Sammy (Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord), is so in awe of having seen "The Greatest Show on Earth" at the creatively formative age of six or so, that he wants a Lionel train set for Hanukkah so he can recreate a spectacular train crash sequence he witnessed in the theater. His mom, Mitzi (a terrific Michelle Williams), tells her husband, Burt (a good Paul Dano), that it's their boy's way of taking control of the traumatic event he witnessed.
But in reality, he, just like yours truly, was so taken by the powerful filmmaking that he had to stage his own crash scene, something he then captured on his family's 8mm film camera. And from there it's off to the races as the movie-making bug sets in and progresses into the teen years (where Sam is portrayed brilliantly by Gabriel LaBelle) where friends and family -- including his three younger sisters (played by Keely Karsten, Julia Butters, and Sophia Kopera) -- make up his cast and he becomes a better visual storyteller all while learning the true power of movies to manipulate emotions.
As they used to say on TV's "Dragnet," "The story you are about to see is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent." Yes, this terrific offering -- one of the best of the year -- is a semi-autobiographical examination by Spielberg of his childhood growing up in a creative but dysfunctional family where his hobby and then obsession with filmmaking was both his escape from troubles and an artistic release.
It's simultaneously informative, heartfelt, funny, and sad all wrapped up in a two-and-a-half-hour package that's possibly part self-introspective therapy and most definitely a love letter to his profession. Not being intimately familiar with his childhood, I can't say with certainty what's fully accurate vs. what's been modified or completely made up, but it's terrific from start to finish, probably even more so if you're a fan of the auteur and moviemaking in general.
The story -- penned by Spielberg and ?Tony Kushner -- consists of three chapters. The first is the aforementioned early formative years, That's followed by the family's move from Jersey to Arizona to follow his dad's burgeoning early computer vocation (with his best friend and biz partner -- Seth Rogen -- along for the ride) where Sammy's teen years are solely comprised of full-on obsession with making movies
And then there's the later move to Northern California when he's given up all of that for some complex reasons but must then contend with polar opposite student reactions to him being the rare Jew at their school. The obligatory bullies (Sam Rechner and Oakes Fegley) are anti-Semites who are more than happy to dole out some physical punishment, but then there's an ultra-Christian girl (Chloe East) who's turned on by the boy's religious status.
In each of those segments, the power of filmmaking is up front and center ranging from delighting his parents with his early work, to his dad asking him to make a film compilation of happier times to help her overcome her grief following her mother's death, dealing with his enemies in different ways, and -- most pivotally -- discovering something by accident in the background of his shots.
And all of that thematic material is driven home by a brief sequence featuring Judd Hirsch as the boy's previously absent lion tamer turned movie worker uncle who shows up out of the blue and gives Sammy the low-down on life as an artist and the sacrifices that come along for the ride.
I loved every minute of the flick, especially seeing the real and maybe somewhat fictionalized influences on Spielberg and his later works. It's clearly his most personal film that he shares with us, warts and all. Hitting all the emotions without any maudlin semblance of sap, "The Fabelmans" is my current choice for the best film of the year. It rates as an 8 out of 10.
Posted November 23, 2022
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