The Fabelmans

Lockdown obviously brought out memories for some filmmakers. Kenneth Branagh took us to his hometown in Belfast, while Sam Mendes told us tales of his mother and his love of cinema with Empire of Light. Now Steven Spielberg has joined this new cinematic universe with The Fabelmans, a fictionalized account of the director’s early years and the influences of his own movie career. While it has plenty of sparkle, wit, and one of the most joyous endings to a movie in a long time, it does suffer from a middle act that plays too much on one subject, although you cannot deny that the one person who was so important in his career was his mother.

Sammy Fabelman discovers a passion for filmmaking after being taken to the cinema by his parents and witnessing the train crash from The Greatest Show on Earth. Camera in hand, Sammy starts making films with the help of his friends and his sisters, while capturing the love within his family. However, his filming captures a dark secret that will change his world forever.

Spielberg’s entry into the world of cinema is nearly legendary for movie buffs. He speaks with great passion about watching Cecil B, DeMille’s epic circus drama, and particularly that legendary train crash. Seeing the events unfold on screen is like taking a step back in time and allowing us into his world. The rest of his story is less notable, and so to see a lively family existence is, like Branagh’s Belfast, a joy to behold. It is when we hit the second act that the film starts to falter.

The sense of period is captured beautifully. The settings and costumes work, while Spielberg’s skill as a filmmaker is obvious, allowing the camera to move effortlessly around this family drama. He also saucily adds plenty of easter eggs within the film for fans to play with, as it maps out his movie career, from Jurassic Park to a very clever nod to Poltergeist. These are the fun elements that let the audience really enter the mind of a movie legend.

The problem with the film is once the secret is revealed, it is used as the central element of the story, and after a while, you do wish we could move on. where the film really succeeds is the inventiveness of the amateur movies, where little tricks like using pinholes to make guns look like they are real, and boards in the sand to recreate explosions, By adding the extended family issues drag the pacing of the film and it is not until Sammy heads to a new school that the film picks up.

The performances are, as you would expect from a Spielberg film, of the highest order. Gabriel LeBelle is terrific as Sammy, watching this young man deal with puberty, falling in love, and the issues within his family, while growing throughout the film. He is the backbone of the film and handles the responsibility with aplomb. Michelle Williams delivers another pitch-perfect performance as Sammy’s mother. Vibrant, full of energy and kindness, she is the one who suffers the most, while Paul Dano is a nice compliment to Williams as the father, a quiet and unassuming man dealing with the issues that are out of his control.

The Fabelmans is a decent film with plenty to enjoy and recommend. A sharp script, a great sense of period, and good performances marred only by the pacing issues in the middle. Is it Spielberg’s masterpiece, as many have stated? No, but that doesn’t mean it’s a disaster either.

4 out of 5

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Gabriel LeBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Judd Hirsch, Seth Rogan, Keeley Karston, Julia Butters, Sophia Kopera

Written by: Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner

Running Time: 151 mins

Cert 12A

Release date: 27th January 2023


One Comment Add yours

  1. Bob Mann says:

    Hi Stu – I’m looking to start a podcast with a bunch of fellow reviewers, and we have a “trial” call on Teams tonight at 7pm to see how it goes – – we are discussing The Fabelmans, Knock at the Cabin and The Whale. Am looking for a fourth person to join, so if you are interested, let me know at and I’ll send you an invite. Cheers, bob.

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