In bringing The Fabelmans to Toronto, Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Spielberg unveiled yet another masterpiece in cinema.
Steven Spielberg has always had a way with the camera but what this film does is show audiences just how this love of filmmaking came to be. If you’ve watched Spielberg on HBO or read Joseph McBride’s book, you’re already at an advantage. It’s why none of the film came to me as a surprise because I was already familiar with what he went through during his childhood.
We go from Spielberg beginning to fall in love with film upon being mesmerized by Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth in 1952 to the events that would shape his future in filmmaking as we know it: the moves to both Arizona and Northern California. As we grow older, we see Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) becoming a blossoming filmmaker during his high school years. The joy in watching this–aside from Spielberg bring back his parents by way of Burt (Paul Dano) and Mitzi Fabelman (Michelle Williams)–is getting to watch Spielberg not only direct the film he’s making for the audience but the many films within the film that he shot as a child. It’s so much fun getting to see a glimpse of the filmmaker’s childhood while he’s behind the camera. One can only assume that longtime film editor Michael Kahn is on double-duty here.
The film isn’t without it’s sad moments. Anybody familiar with Spielberg’s work already knows that the broken family theme is one that repeatedly shows up throughout the course of the film. It’s a theme that’s front and center during the film. It is not an understatement to say just how much the divorce impacted him and film audiences in the years to come. Broken family issues notwithstanding, Judaism is up front and center during the film. If you’re Jewish, you’re bound to get some big laughs during some of the moments here. I know that I certainly had to restrain my laughter more than a few times. If you’ve ever been Jewish in December, you should know what I mean!
Speaking of Judaism, the film does not shy away from antisemitism. The antisemitism that Spielberg dealt with as a child is what lessened his observance during his adolescence. It’s not easy to watch on screen–he’s called the K word and he’s bullied for being a Jew. And yet, in making the Ditch Day 1964 film, Spielberg’s Fabelman comes out on top. But anyway, making Schindler’s List is what brought him closer to Judaism than ever before. Schindler’s will forever be his greatest legacy because it lead to the USC Shoah Foundation and getting Holocaust survivors to go on record in telling their stories.
Judd Hirsch isn’t in the film for long but he turns in one of the best supporting performances this year as Sammy’s great-uncle, Boris, on his mother’s side. Michelle Williams also shines in her performance as Mitzi. And yes, she joins the list of non-Jewish actresses starring as Jewish women on camera. While I firmly believe that Jewish actors need to be given more opportunities to play Jews on screen, Steven Spielberg has more than earned the right to do what he wants in telling his story. Seth Rogen portray’s Bennie Loewy, who is Burt’s best friend and an uncle figure to Sammy. Of course, the big breakout star of the film is Gabriel LaBelle as the teenage Spielberg. He’s certainly going places.
The downside of this film is that it marks the end of an era for Spielberg and the legendary John Williams. Spielberg was definitive during the press conference when he said that he was not retiring. However, Williams is retiring from film composing with Indiana Jones 5 in summer 2023. The duo have had a long relationship dating back to The Sugarland Express in 1974. Take in every bit of the score because after 29 films, there will never be another Williams score for a Spielberg-directed film. It’s been a pleasure getting to watch their collaborations over the years.
Outside of Toronto, audiences won’t get to see Spielberg’s first-ever TIFF film until November. First up is closing night of AFI Fest on November 6. This will be followed by the film’s limited theatrical release on November 11 before going wide on November 23. Listen, I know that some readers will wait for the film to hit Peacock but I highly recommend seeing this on the biggest screen possible. I don’t know about you but I know what I’m doing over Thanksgiving weekend!
The Fabelmans is one of the finest Steven Spielberg films and it lands the upper tier of his filmography. This is the sort of movie that the Oscars tend to love. Going into TIFF, this was my most anticipated film along with Glass Onion. Currently, it’s my #1 film of the year. Much like Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast in 2021, this is a film that Steven Spielberg could only make after his parents died. He’s been wanting to make it since 1999 but the wait was worth it. Spielberg dedicates the film in memory of both of his parents, Leah and Arnold.
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
SCREENWRITERS: Steven Spielberg & Tony Kushner
CAST: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Gabriel LaBelle, Jeannie Berlin, Julia Butters, Robin Bartlett, Keeley Karsten, and Judd Hirsch
The Fabelmans holds its world premiere during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations program. Universal Pictures will release the film on November 11, 2022. Grade: 5/5
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