TIFF 2022 Review: The Fabelmans Further Proves Why Steven Spielberg is One of the Filmmaking Greats – MovieWeb

Steven Spielberg’s most personal film yet, The Fabelmans takes us back to his childhood and how his family inspired his dream to make movies.
Director Steven Spielberg goes back to his roots with The Fabelmans. The film made its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival 2022, marking the director's debut at the institution in his decades-long career. The Fabelmans was first announced as part of TIFF's line-up in July 2022, per EW. Naturally, Spielberg's film skyrocketed to the top of almost everyone's list of the most highly anticipated movies to see, especially after Variety reported a bidding war over the film between other major fall festivals like Venice and Telluride. To perhaps no one's surprise, The Fabelmans was met with a standing ovation after its first screening.
The Fabelmans is Spielberg's most personal film yet. With a script co-written by the director and Tony Kushner, the film takes us to 1950s Arizona, where Sammy Fabelman (Gabrielle LaBelle) — a character stand-in for Spielberg — discovers his passion for making movies as a boy, to the delight of his classical pianist mother Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and to the somewhat chagrin of his computer engineer father Burt (played by Paul Dano). Though Burt and Mitzi love each other very much, it's clear there's something missing in their marriage. Things only become further strained when Burt lands a job at IBM that relocates the entire family to California. Through the complex and emotional Fabelman family dynamics, of course, Sammy leans into his art, and it's with his camera that he finds purpose and meaning.
More than anything, The Fabelmans is about innocence. There have certainly been many movies about making movies throughout the years, but what Spielberg spotlights about cinema and filmmaking here, above the business and politics that inevitably come with it, is the sheer joy and wonder of the medium. Between the impact The Greatest Show on Earth had on Sammy to the way his homemade films bring together his family, friends, and even his bullies, The Fabelmans never stops chasing the elusive feelings of oneness with the self and connection with others. That Spielberg is able to grasp them, immortalize them in one epic picture, and, more significantly, offer it to us so that we, too, may rediscover why we fell in love with movies in the first place, makes The Fabelmans nothing short of a masterpiece.
LaBelle turns in a knock-out breakthrough performance in The Fabelmans as the teenage Sammy, deftly navigating the emotional pitfalls of knowing first-hand the disconnect between his parents while being a teenager on the precipice of adulthood. The actor's work, here, is a crescendo of charm and change, and the fact that he is able to both exhibit restraint and earnestness promises a great career ahead. Meanwhile, Dano, as always, is pitch-perfect as the Fabelman patriarch. Any other actor may have too easily made Burt a caricature of a husband/father working tirelessly to provide for his family, but Dano brings a steadfast gentleness to the role — which is a far cry from his turn as The Riddler in The Batman earlier this year and, indeed, a testament to the actor's skill.
Of course, it's Williams who shines the brightest in The Fabelmans, delivering a career-best performance that will surely see many stops along the awards campaign trail to the Oscars. Mitzi is both the light that guides Sammy's road to discovering himself as an artist and the shadows that he, as a teenager, doesn't fully understand and must sort through. Williams brings grace, pain, joy, and heartache to the role, personifying what it means to lead with your heart. It's Sammy's story, but it's Williams' film.
Related: TIFF 2022 Review: Empire of Light is a Beautiful Love Letter to Cinema
As we've seen with films like Jaws, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Catch Me If You Can, a Spielberg film is almost guaranteed to be a major technical achievement. The Fabelmans is no exception. A long-time collaborator of Spielberg's since 1993's Schindler's List, Janusz Kamińsky's cinematography here beautifully captures the dynamic and child-like wonder of the act of discovery and allows us to see the world through Sammy's eyes. Meanwhile, John Williams' score, yet another with an established working relationship with Spielberg, is the musical heartbeat of The Fabelmans, at once grand and whispering when the moment calls for it. Praise must also be given to production designer Rick Carter who, from the Arizona woods to the California suburbs, ushers in utmost warmth to every space we're in and brings us home.
Ultimately, Spielberg's personal story is there for everyone to see, but more noticeably, it is the respect he clearly has for film and the movie-going experience that's on full display. With a story about family, made by a cast and crew that have largely been part of Spielberg's filmmaking family after all of these years (including the crowd-pleasing cameos), everyone delivers something exceptional. It's not enough to call The Fabelmans a love letter to cinema, though it certainly is. No, it's more than that — it is joy made visible.
Jericho is a freelance writer and editor. His love for film started with weekend trips to the cinema with his dad when he was young. This translated into a love for storytelling in general. In addition to journalism, he has written for the stage and screen and has helped authors develop their novels. He can be reached at jerichotadeo [at] gmail [dotcom].


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