The Fabelmans (Steven Spielberg, 2022, USA)

The Fabelmans, Steven Spielberg's latest, is the director's most autobiographical work yet. While earlier films such as E.T. and Jurassic Park often addressed the director's fractured childhood, The Fabelmans is the first to tackle that subject head-on. A COVID project, Spielberg wrote the script with now-frequent collaborator Tony Kushner (whose voice seems to come through more in the final act of the film - the high school coming-of-age story). It's a project that will be most satisfactory to those familiar with Spielberg's self-mythology and filmography - it may be less than satisfactory to a general audience. The latest box office returns indicate that it isn't striking a chord with the broader public, although that could change as the Awards season evolves.

The film fuses two narratives - young Sam Fabelman (a stand-in for Spielberg) discovering his love for cinema, and the disintegration of his parents' marriage. Michelle Williams gives an unhinged performance as Sam's mother Mitzi, while Paul Dano portrays Sam's engineer, no-nonsense father Burt. Seth Rogen has a side role as Bennie, Burt's friend and business partner and - as we later discover - Mitzi's lover. 

While the film is sentimental, Spielberg can't be faulted in this case. It's a deeply personal story. Whether it merits two and a half hours is a matter of question - we've seen a dissolution of a marriage on screen before, and this one brings nothing new to the table. The film finds a stronger footing in Sammy's discovery of his love of filmmaking - particularly a final scene which has a lot to say about the relationship between cinema and reality. Fabelmans is in essence a therapy session for Spielberg, and for those interested in auteur theory and the psychology of arguably the most famous and influential filmmaker of all time, this film is worth evaluating.



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