Above: Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy Fabelman in The Fabelmans, co-written, produced and directed by Steven Spielberg.
By Mark Fields
It should be not a surprise that the first scene in Steven Spielberg’s largely autobiographical The Fabelmans centers around a movie. Standing in line for a showing of The Greatest Show on Earth, Spielberg’s young proxy, Sammy, listens to his parents, Bert (Paul Dano) and Mitzi (Michelle Williams) extol the drama and magic of film. As we all know, it’s a lesson the filmmaker took to heart despite his childhood reservations. What follows is a warm and compassionate exploration of young Sammy’s life within his loving yet eccentric family as he pursues his interest in making movies. Although the whole enterprise has a technicolor glow to it, Spielberg reveals the tumult that lies under that benign surface: emotional infidelity, mental illness, and antisemitism. Williams plumbs real poignancy as Sammy’s creatively-stifled mother, and Gabriel Labelle is convincing as the teenage Sammy. There’s a very Spielbergian movie homage in the last act as Sammy meets the legendary director John Ford (wryly played by colleague director David Lynch).