THE FABELMANS (2022) l Universal Pictures Canada | November 2022
Starring: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogan, Judd Hirsch, Gabriel LaBelle
Director: Steven Spielberg
Growing up in post-World War II era Arizona, a young man named Sammy Fabelman discovers a shattering family secret and explores how the power of films can help him see the truth.
TIFF REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
The Fabelmans is Steven Spielberg’s magnum opus, delivering his most personal film to date as he reflects on his childhood at the same time as creating a love letter to the art of cinema.
For decades, Steven Spielberg has delivered some of the most memorable films of all time. He has made audiences scared of the ocean, touched millions of hearts with the friendship between a little boy and an alien, brought dinosaurs back to life, and created World War II masterpieces. But for his latest film, Spielberg along with his writing partner Tony Kushner go back to Spielberg’s childhood days to explore the origin of his love of filmmaking and his family in a deeply personal and moving film.
The film starts with Sam Fabelman, who is our cinematic Steven Spielberg, discovering cinema for the first time ever and chronicles his passion for making his own movies as a young child, while also exploring the relationship between his parents and its breakdown. Each scene is full of emotion as we watch a young fictionalized version of Spielberg discover his love of film and hone his craft as a filmmaker, explore the end of his parents marriage and what it meant to him to be growing up Jewish, all while our young protagonist tries to find his way in the world. There is pure joy and wonder, while at the same time absolute heartbreak, masterfully balanced throughout the screenplay to create a film that never stops moving but never loses its heart for a second.
Though, it's the way that Kushner and Spielberg weave filmmaking into the most crucial moments of the story that make this coming of age story standout from all that came before it. There is one simple scene where we see young Sam Fabelman editing a film of his family’s camping trip, which quickly becomes one of the most emotional moments of the entire film, all based around the editing process. A silence descended on the Princess of Wales Theatre at the Toronto International Film Festival during this scene, where you could hear the audience actively crying because it was such a simple yet emotionally powerful scene.
As with all of Spielberg’s films, the film is stunning to watch from start to finish. Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is sensational, capturing the magic of childhood while playing with different types of film to capture the feel of the films that young Sam Fabelman is making in this movie. The production and costume design transports the audience back to the 1950s and 60s, creating the world of the film and allowing the audience to fully live in the moment. And John Williams’s musical score is absolutely incredible, even if it is largely just piano themes. The piano works so well with the story as Mitzi Fabelman is a piano player, with each theme Williams composed perfectly capturing the emotion of every scene of the film.
There is no denying but it is the performances that make this film. Michelle Williams is finally going to win her Oscar for her performance of Mitzi Fabelman. Williams captures the artistic and playful soul of Spielberg’s mother with such care and compassion, lighting up the screen every moment she is present. Every scene she has is an Oscar worthy moment, but none more so than the scene where she watches a film that Sam has made only for her. You see Williams portray a look of pure wonder as she admires her son’s artistic talents, but with that life quickly draining from her face and she falls apart as she discovers her son knows her big secret. It is without a doubt the most gut wrenching scene of the entire film, that is alone enough to secure the Best Supporting Actress nomination for Williams, who is frankly long overdue for a win.
Paul Dano is spectacular as Burt Fabelman, bringing a warmth to the film as a husband who deeply loves his wife and children, willing to do anything to hold his family together even if his wife is falling out of love with him. Dano is guaranteed to be getting award nominations for his performance this year, especially for his heartbreaking final scene of the film, though his supporting performance is outshadowed by two of his castmates: David Lynch and Judd Hirsch. Hirsch steals his five minutes of the film as Uncle Boris, delivering some wonderful laughs and a whole lot of heart in a matter of minutes. And Lynch portrays a Hollywood legend that Sam Fabelman meets, in a truly magnificent moment that will live on forever in cinematic history. Seth Rogen is a lot of fun as Uncle Bennie, a pivotal role in the film that Rogen perfectly fits and delivers a truly wonderful dramatic performance that puts his comedic talents to good use.
But, it is young Gabriel LaBelle who anchors the entire film as Sam Fabelman. Portraying one of the most notable directors in cinematic history is no easy task, even before factoring in that he is also directing your performance. But LaBelle gives a truly magnificent performance full of passion, joy, and heartbreak which captures the talent of Spielberg in every moment. LaBelle commands your attention over the course of the entire film as we watch this young man grow up and experience the hardships of life, never for a second letting go of the audiences’ attention. Needless to say, after this film opens in November, LaBelle is going to be one of the most in demand young actors in Hollywood, and rightfully so given his outstanding performance.
Even though it’s the cast that makes this film come to life, the true star is Spielberg as director. Attempting to make a film about yourself is no easy task, but Spielberg directs the hell out of this film, capturing so many small and beautiful moments that will have audiences around the world bursting out into laughter one scene, and bawling their eyes out the next. There’s a reason why he is one of the greatest directors to ever live, and his work here merely confirms that. It might be early to call it, but it feels like we have just seen this year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Williams, because this is such a phenomenal film that is a tribute not only to the art form, but a beloved figure who has not won a Oscar since the 90s. It’s Spielberg’s time to win again, and what better film to award him for than the film about his own life, as the Academy loves a good narrative and a film that pays tribute to the art they cherish so much.
Absolutely stunning from start to finish as both a coming of age story, a family drama, and ode to cinema and one of the greatest directors to ever live, The Fabelmans is nothing short of perfection that is not only my favourite coming of age story of all time, but has skyrocketed its way into my top twenty films of all time!
RATING: 5 out of 5