“Movies are dreams that you never forget.” Mitzi Fabelman (Michelle Williams)
Arguably the best movie of 2022 is Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans. A list of the greatest directors of all time, beginning with Orson Welles, would include Steven Spielberg. This thesis is proven multiple times in his tour-de-force The Fabelmans, his semi-autobiography that chronicles the early family life of Sammy Fabelman, standing in for Spielberg, and the birth of his obsession with movies.
As a youngster, Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel La Belle) is introduced to cinema by his mother, Mitzi, and father, Burt (Paul Dano), after he exclaimed his lack of desire to witness this adult diversion. Once he saw a train wreck on the screen, he was impelled to re-create the scene with his model train. Subsequently as a young man he filmed toilet-paper mummies, his Boy Scout troupe in stock westerns, and bloody war movies in the desert of Arizona.
And so began the story of his film passion up through his brief encounter with legendary director John Ford: “They tell me you want to become a picture maker. What do you know about art, kid?” Obviously much.
The strength of this engaging recounting of Sammy’s growth into a world-class director is the sustained realism of the challenges a young man experiences, like his eccentric mother in love with his dad’s best friend, “Uncle” Benny (Seth Rogan), and crushing anti-Semitism in high school. The depiction of his harassment is alternately cliched—the bigger boys pick on diminutive, Jewish him—and inspiring as he uses his burgeoning film expertise to subvert the relentless annoyances.
Midway in the drama, itinerant arts-loving Uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch) expresses what Spielberg and his co-writer, Tony Kushner, are getting at about the conjunction of art and life: "Family, art, life — it will tear you in two." The Fabelmans evidences the way to deal with the vagaries of cinema—love every ironic and sardonic moment, because they are the stuff of art. The score, by who else but John Williams, elevates even the darkest moments.
While he has difficulty dealing with these roadblocks, no doubt they contributed to his deep understanding of life’s richness in its flaws. The Fabelmans will receive multiple Oscar nominations that include best picture.
Director: Steven Spielberg (West Side Story)
Screenplay: Spielberg, Tony Kushner (West Side Story)
Cast: Michelle Williams (Marilyn), Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood)
Run Time: 2h 31m
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at JohnDeSando52@gmail.com