‘The Fabelmans’ (2022) Review: A Spielberg Masterpiece

Nuha Hassan
5 min readDec 27, 2022
Mateo Zoryna Francis-Deford as Young Sammy. Image courtesy of Amblin Entertainment.

Everyone remembers the first movie they watched at the cinema; the first movie that introduced them to the craft of filmmaking. There’s not a single person in history that didn’t watch a Steven Spielberg movie growing up. Remember the first time you watched Jurassic Park and felt marvelled by the genius story and craft behind the movie? For over 50 years, Spielberg has made the impossible by creating incredible stories and showing everyone the beauty and power of cinema. His talent and love for filmmaking are unlike anything that has ever existed in the history of cinema, and his new movie, The Fabelmans is a testament to his craft.

Sammy Fabelman (Mateo Zoryna Francis-Deford) goes to see his first movie: 1952’s The Greatest Show on Earth with his parents, Mitzi and Burt (Michelle Williams and Paul Dano, respectively). His parents are worried because he gets anxious in the dark but they reassure him that everything will be fine. The movie ends with a train crash created in miniatures, and seven-year-old Sammy becomes obsessed with the sequence and asks his father to buy him a train set. When he crashes the train set to recreate the scene, it upsets Burt and tells his young son that he doesn’t appreciate nice things. Mitzi suggests that they shoot the train scene on Burt’s movie camera and watch the sequence over and over again.

Over the years, teenage Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle) becomes a more proficient filmmaker. The young boy discovers his love for cinema by watching his parents and friends react to his short films. Every time he shoots a new film, he finds new techniques to make the scenes work. Burt constantly tells Sammy that he is going through a phase, but the young prodigy knows that is not true. He rebels against these remarks, but the cost of following his artistic dreams comes at a cost.

Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy. Image courtesy of Amblin Entertainment.

For a semi-biographical movie, The Fabelmans don’t attempt to squeeze all of Spielberg’s story into the two-hour runtime. The story focuses on the prodigal filmmaker’s talents and the moments in his life that influenced his filmmaking. Sammy watches his parent’s relationship and his father’s friendship with Bennie (Seth Rogen) and his siblings closely, all of this is seen through his perspective. The young filmmaker sees the family in a way that nobody else can and it brings out secrets that destroy his world. It’s not surprising that Sammy is warmed about this situation by Uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch): Artists should commit to their talent but when they fiercely pursue it, there is a chance of neglecting their loved ones and creating conflict. Sammy’s creativity is challenged when he finds out the family’s secret. Instead of capturing everything; his mother’s pain and joy, he learns that the power of cinema has more positive aspects than negativity. The Fabelmans focus on the important parts of the story: the joy, the sadness, and the hopeful final act that creates an impactful ending because the audience knows what is next for Sammy.

Essentially, The Fabelmans is a personal story. Spielberg peels back the layers and looks back at his life; by exploring his past and letting the audience learn about his life until the point where he gets his first television, it’s his origin story. Spielberg doesn’t tell us his entire story to the very current timeline, but it focuses on more nostalgic and emotional parts of his life, and by doing this, it’s more sentimental. He adds poignant moments to remind the audience of the adoration he has for the craft. Every frame is captured with a sense of love and affection that explains the essence of filmmaking on a personal level, especially for Spielberg.

Paul Dano, Mateo Zoryna Francis-Deford and Michelle Williams as Burt, Young Sammy and Mitzi. Image courtesy of Amblin Entertainment.

From the sounds of the editing machine to the physical shooting of the movies, The Fabelmans never lets the audience forget the process of filmmaking. Spielberg frames Sammy’s love for film as a refuge for everything else that happens in his life. The power of filmmaking is shown through the light and speed of the projectors, how Sammy can manipulate the story with different shots, and adding music to the background is just one of the many techniques Sammy uses to make movie magic. These technical controls are essential to Sammy, as well as Spielberg’s process of learning about filmmaking. It’s how movies are imagined, using technical creativity that will add more depth to the story and character.

The great pleasure of The Fabelmans is watching LaBelle, Dano and Williams work their magic on screen. It’s not easy to portray one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema but LaBelle does it so effortlessly. He’s absolutely phenomenal. He doesn’t try to imitate Spielberg’s mannerisms but adds his characteristics to the screen. Labelle shines when he plays his scenes alongside Dano, who plays his workaholic, computer-obsessed father, and Williams, who plays the lonely, trapped housewife with her free-spirited personality. She gives a heartbreaking performance of a woman who struggles to live a happy life but does so for the sake of her children. Williams’ character puts on her happy face and at the same time, expresses the deep unhappiness of the woman. Her performance doesn’t overwhelm or overshadow Dano, who brings a subtle and reserved performance, and LaBelle.

By bringing the story of The Fabelmans to the big screen, Spielberg shows a vulnerable side of his life and career. He crafts a story that shows the magic of movies and proves that once again, he is a master of filmmaking. It’s a beautiful, heartwarming and incredibly powerful story of a family and the terrible cost of dedicating their life to something that they love. Spielberg puts his entire heart into this movie. The Fabelmans prove that this is another exciting blockbuster that reminds the audience of the pains and joys and the nostalgia is essential to creating a Spielbergian movie.

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