To borrow a term from “The Rewatchables,” Steven Spielberg’s “Apex Mountain” can be seen spread throughout multiple decades. From the creation of the “Summer Blockbuster” with Jaws in the ’70s to one of the most influential sci-fi & adventure films of the era, E.T and Raiders of the Lost Ark in the ’80s, to impeccably directing three of the best films of the ’90s, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, one could say Spielberg has cemented himself as one of cinema’s greatest directors.
While the ’00s and ’10s saw some of Spielberg’s underrated gems, Spielberg’s first film in his 6th decade of directing was one to remember. While some doubted Spielberg, West Side Story is one of 2021’s best films and showed cinephiles Spielberg still has what it takes to create impeccable greatness.
Fast forward to 2022 and the outcomes of Steven Spielberg’s most personal film, The Fabelmans. West Side Story felt like a prelude to what’s to come as Steven Spielberg crafts a vulnerable and moving self-reflective study in The Fabelmans. An earnest timepiece of family dynamics, marriage and the ultimate power of cinema and art. Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, and Gabriel LaBelle are perfect at capturing the imperfections of individuals and the ideology of hope.
The Fabelmans follow Sammy Fabelman and his family. Spanning the post-World War II era, cinephiles follow Sammy from age 7 to 18 as he comes of age through familial dynamics and his aspiration to become a film director.
Not only is the film Spielberg’s most personal film to date, but it offers a rarity in his career where he took part in penning the screenplay. Working with Tony Kushner on the screenplay, the duo’s script brings the warmth and comedic senses classic Spielberg films are privy to. It’s Spielberg going through his most personal memories and taking them from paper onto the screen.
While Michelle Williams is heartbreaking in her performance as she balances motherhood and her desires, Gabriel LaBelle’s breakout performance stands above the rest. LaBelle delivers a nuanced and balanced performance of a young man whose love and passion for cinema is escapism from the familial turmoil he is encountering. It’s both an escapism and gateway into a world that we, cinephiles, can often relate to. The magic of movies is unlike anything out there.
While subtle and often quiet, Paul Dano cements his excellent 2022 with another stunning supporting performance. It’s not the showiest take, but it shows the importance of the paternal figure. Judd Hirsch’s monologue is a scene stealer on the other side of the supporting players, while David Lynch’s cameo is delightful.
Janusz Kamiński’s cinematography is stunning. His lens captures the era beautifully, especially the quiet moments between mother and son. One of my favorite shots of the year is no more potent than when Mitzi (Williams) and Sammy are watching his short train film. Along with Kamiński, the legendary Academy Award winner John Williams returns with a soft and understated score.
In a career of multiple magnum opuses, The Fabelmans enters the conversation of one of the most outstanding achievements in Steven Spielberg’s career.