Steven Spielberg is undoubtedly aware of the so-called “Spielberg face,” one of his directorial signatures that has been identified (and meme) by the internet in recent years. You can imagine it without much effort: a character looking up in awe and a little horrified, slightly offstage. When a cast member in a Spielberg film sees a dinosaur, an alien, a really big shark, or a giant rolling boulder, here’s what they do.
However, as The Fabelmans is quick to point out, we have missed the point of that phrase. These characters aren’t just wondering in a certain way; They take a moment to mirror us.
You watch the movie.
In the opening sequence of The Fabelmans, Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical account of his own upbringing and journey into filmmaking, a young Sam Fabelman (Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord) watches his first film: Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth . The boy’s parents (Michelle Williams and Paul Dano, both brilliant) argue about whether or not the experience will be too scary; When Stan witnesses a dramatic train wreck, he gapes at the screen and makes the first Spielberg face in history.
The parents consider him traumatized; really, he’s addicted.
The Fabelmans will continue to follow the young filmmaker’s experiments with moving images, from his first home movies to the day he first wandered onto Paramount property. The movies, however, are the circumstances; The theme is the gradual decline of a dysfunctional family.
Played by Gabriel LaBelle as a teenager and young adult, Sam is the first to realize that his parents’ marriage is on thin ice — and that his mother’s mental health is failing. As the family, which includes a trio of sisters (Julia Butters, Keeley Karsten and Sophia Kopera), travels across the country in search of success and happiness, the Fabelman family grows tense. When a final move brings the family to Northern California, Stan continues to be tormented by anti-Semitic bullying.
The Fabelmans follows in a tradition with other more recent roman clefs such as Roma, Belfast and Armageddon Time. However, it’s far more successful than all of its predecessors because Spielberg is willing to be unromantic about his own past. Yes, the wonder that brought him to the camera is there, but it’s under a constant cloud of reality and even a good dose of regret. While other directors can’t help but think of the good old days when they travel down memory lane, Spielberg is here to make a good movie — one that just so happens to be centered around his own life.
My rating: 9/10
The Fabelmans is in theaters now.