The Fabelmans

The Fabelmans (Review) – a testament to the power of cinema, family and art from one of the world’s greatest directors


The Fabelmans is released in cinemas nationwide on 27th January.

When Steven Spielberg was fifteen, he met the legendary filmmaker John Ford. Enthralled by movies, Spielberg sought advice. Ford pointed to some paintings and asked him, “where’s the horizon”? He then explained that if the horizon is near the top or the bottom of the frame, the visual is interesting, but a horizon in the middle is nearly always boring. Spielberg incorporates this meeting into his newest film – The Fabelmans – which is possibly his most self-reflective film to date and his best since Bridge of Spies.

Spielberg’s own childhood massively influences The Fabelmans, yet the story is still one of fiction. Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) sees Cecile B. Mille’s The Greatest Show on Earth as a child and is instantly captivated by the moviemaking experience. He desires to become a filmmaker, to the delight of his mother, Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and the reserved but well-meaning support of his father, Burt (Paul Dano), who sees Sammy’s passion as more of a hobby. The film details Sammy’s journey from boy to man as he navigates family conflict and changing homes, all while his dream of being a director is put to the test.

Semi-autobiographical in nature, Spielberg puts a lot of himself on display with this film. One can easily picture Spielberg as the same shy kid as Sammy, distinguished only by an obsessive need to make films. However, what makes The Fabelmans shine is its showcasing of the links and strains between family and art. Ultimately family and where you come from are the basis of most, if not all, art. Those who brought you into the world and share your blood often shape your very being. The same is true of the creative process, including the creation of cinema. Family is both the inspiration and death of art, as it places dreams against reality and the individual against the collective. Spielberg recognises this, yet explores this grey area with nothing but love for both the medium of cinema and his characters – all of whom were inspired by his own family.

Family dynamics are portrayed poignantly in The Fabelmans, with all their highs and lows. Sammy is, in many ways, the best of both worlds in terms of embodying his parents. His mother is an enthusiastic musical artist, a kindred spirit to her son. Meanwhile, his father’s encyclopaedic knowledge of engineering and machinery gives Sammy the jargon and intelligence needed to expand his creativity with a movie camera. Yet he also inherits both of their flaws, be it a selfish drive for his own happiness or an inability to see the needs and dreams of others. The familial relationships are not only true to life but also profoundly engaging. The moments of mutual love and fun are wonderful, but the conflicts and divides, subtle or gargantuan, are riveting in their ability to deliver emotional haymakers.

Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy Fabelman in The Fabelmans, co-written, produced and directed by Steven Spielberg.

The Fabelmans is notably grounded in Spielberg’s trademark wonder, and while some may point to the tone as being overly whimsical, this also leads to some of the film’s most triumphant technical achievements. John Williams’ score is miraculous, a beautiful array of piano music capturing both the magic and uncertainty of childhood. His score enhances the cinematography and editing, much of which acts as a sneaky parallel to Spielberg’s past works. Emotional resonance is found throughout, with notable moments where it is clear how much Spielberg took Ford’s words to heart.

A blisteringly honest look at how family shapes us, the film is also an ode to the power and multidimensional nature of cinema. Spielberg’s adoration for the medium is ingrained in every frame of The Fabelmans. Even though Sammy’s love of moviemaking starts as a past-time passion, Spielberg spends considerable time exploring the effects of cinema on people, even through films as amateurish as Sammy’s. When utilised effectively, cinema can bring out emotional truths, recreate mesmerising and horrific experiences, and even reveal aspects of a person they never knew existed. Spielberg’s direction demonstrates this in spades.

Most of all, this is an immaculately performed feature. Each actor imbues their role with a sense of humanity that elevates the already great screenplay co-written by Tony Kushner. Dano and Williams are particularly noteworthy as their jaded certainties and deep anxieties are respectively challenged and addressed by their son’s obvious talent and passion. However, it is young Gabriel LaBelle who steals the show as Sammy. A boisterous and charismatic performance that goes through all the struggles and doubts of being a young creative, LaBelle is a tour de force and another magnificent find for Spielberg, who has always had a knack for such things. It’ll be thrilling to see where LaBelle’s career takes him next.

We are fortunate to be alive in a time when we can still be gifted with a new film from Steven Spielberg. He’s one of the world’s greatest filmmakers, and The Fabelmans is a testament to not only the power of cinema but also how family shapes us into the people we are, merits and faults alike. It is a humanist picture with terrific performances, inspired craftsmanship and the same spark of magic for storytelling and filmmaking that has defined Spielberg’s career. Here’s hoping he never stops fulfilling his childhood dreams.


  • The Fabelmans

United States | 2hr 31min | 2022

We are fortunate to be alive in a time when we can still be gifted with a new film from Steven Spielberg. He’s one of the world’s greatest filmmakers, and The Fabelmans is a testament to not only the power of cinema but also how family shapes us into the people we are, merits and faults alike.

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