The Fabelmans

A Spielberg triumph in every way.

The humble beginnings for how Steven Spielberg developed a passion for filmmaking includes him filming a train crash with his Lionel train set, and made some short films-a western called “The Last Gunfight” in the Boy Scouts and a war epic “Escape to Nowhere” with his classmates.

“The Fabelmans” would happen to be semi-autobiographical, considering that Spielberg didn’t want to insult his family, but his parents had confidence in him to make a movie inspired by his life. I can’t say everything that happens in the film is accurate to his real life, but I can call it a masterpiece that loves his courage and ideas, and loves him as a human being with challenges in his youth.

The movie gives him the name Sam Fabelman, who sees “The Greatest Show on Earth,” and is so inspired by the train wreck scene that for Hanukkah, he asks for a model set. That’s when his mother lets him use his father’s camera, and that’s when he recreates the crash.

Seeing this transcend into a young filmmaker is exhilarating, but this movie isn’t just about movies; it’s also about the boy’s family life. It deals with his computer engineer father Burt (Paul Dano) constantly relocating his family because of his job; his mother Mitzi (Michelle Williams) having an affair with Burt’s friend Bennie (Seth Rogen); and how Sam (Gabriel LaBelle) temporality gives up on the dream because of those roadblocks.

Despite the hardships (also with some antisemitism and family losses), “The Fabelmans” is anything but a downer. It wins us through the dreams and pathos, because of how Spielberg refuses to insult his family or anyone else in his life, but rather present them in his own unique style. They way Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord (as the younger Sammy) uses his hand as a makeshift screen, and how a car ride has to feature electric wires going haywire are both examples of how the filmmaker loves his work.

“Close Encounters of The Third Kind,” “Jaws,” “E.T.,” “Schindler’s List,” “Jurassic Park,” “Minority Report,” and the list goes on and on. We have to appreciate the past for sending this brilliant filmmaker on the right path. This movie may use another name for his portrayal of himself and again I can’t say what’s fiction and nonfiction, but it still has his loyal fans rooting for whatever you obstacles comes this young man’s way. We can be uplifted at his visions and dreams in the baby step sense, and we can be sad at some of the pathos in his life. All lives can be filled with joy and sadness, if only they found the right balance for both.

The performances are flat-out fantastic. LaBelle is perfect as the kid, because of how he adapts to this particular coming-of-age story with a sincere aspect. Williams has the looks and spirit of a blonde Susan Egan, especially when she’s given dancing and piano moments. I’ve never seen Dano in a father role, but here, he uses his mannerisms to portray one. And all three actors know how to use their emotions and words wisely.

Among the supporting roles, Rogen shines when he’s given a different role from his previous dramatic and comedic roles. Sam Rechner uses his anger as a school bully who is less antisemitic than the other bully (Oakes Fegley). Chloe East has some funny moments as Sam’s girlfriend. And both Judd Hirsch as the uncle and filmmaker David Lynch as John Ford have their own unique ways of telling the boy how to survive in the movie world. That is if he’s prepared for it.

We’ve seen Tim Burton tell the story of the bad filmmaker Ed Wood in “Ed Wood,” and we just saw Kevin Smith reflect on his cult classic “Clerks” by adding that to the story in “Clerks III.” And now, we see Steven Spielberg making a movie inspired by his life. “The Fabelmans” is nothing short of a miracle.

Rating: 4 out of 4.

Now Playing in New York and Los Angeles

Opens Everywhere Next Wednesday

Categories: Drama

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