The Fabelmans: A Review (Updated 3/2/23)

A Semi-Autobiographical Tall Tale That Lives And Breathes American Cinema.

What writer-director-producer Steven Spielberg has done with The Fabelmans is nothing short of astonishing. I have always been a huge fan of Spielberg’s work and after decades finally did get a chance to work for him a couple of years ago in my story analyst capacity. So watching his latest film is close to my heart and personal experience.

Spielberg co-wrote this screenplay with Tony Kushner, with whom he has collaborated several times in the 21st century (Lincoln, Munich and last year’s musical reimagining of The West Side Story). Collectively, Spielberg and Kushner hold a Pulitzer Prize, two Tonys, three Academy Awards, twelve Emmys, nine Golden Globes and many more prestigious, international awards.

Without spoiling the plot, the gist of my review is the sweet fact that the entire movie is an homage to the art of filmmaking. It is not just a loving coming-of-age by one of the greatest filmmakers of our time but a mini-masterclass, teaching techniques and creative discoveries with every scene, while documenting Spielberg’s growth from boy to man.

Early on, the climactic train wreck from Cecil B. DeMille’s spectacular 1952 feature The Greatest Show on Earth is the inciting incident in Spielberg’s life. It’s the beginning of his life work as a filmmaker.

Young Spielberg (aka Sammy Fableman) is blown away and goes on to reenact the action with a train set (an instinctive work with miniatures) and his dad’s 8mm movie camera.

From Kodak

The movie is peppered with excerpts from Spielberg’s early experiments with shooting film, directing, stagecraft and editing. These are further enhanced by a mixture of 8mm, 16mm and 35mm film. There is even more on display of course because the story within the story is being told, produced and directed by the mature filmmaker.

Spielberg On The Set of The Fabelmans

The biggest downside to this film is that The Fabelmans somehow fails to put the audience in Sammy’s shoes. We always feel once-removed from him. This is due, in part, to the fact that Sammy is a totally loved and supported child. He does not face obstacles that generate empathy for him until halfway through the film. There may also be some professional jealousy that precludes a Best Picture win.

We’ll have to wait and see what the Academy says on March 12. would like to see it take Best Original Screenplay and Best Director. Everything Everywhere All At Once is a serious contender for Best Picture given its novel script and directing but as inventive and audacious as that movie is, IMO it’s not on the same level.

The Fabelmans has thus far not fared well at The Box Office. At the time of this writing it has only brought in $31,375,376. This doesn’t include online or DVD sales which will improve total receipts. I screened the movie twice online. Though The Fabelmans was made for the big screen, it’s great to watch at home because you can rewind and study as much as you like.

Anyway, two enthusiastic thumbs up from this movie lover! The Fabelmans will go down in history as an enduring story that’s all about movies and the love of motion pictures. Well done!

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