The Fabelmans: there are a couple of layers to consider when looking back at Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical film. The first one is the most self-evident: the story as being told, of a happy and functional family of six, seen from the eyes of the eldest son, as he grows up and discovers his love for filmmaking. It is sweetly emotional, efficiently told, and filled with relatable characters and entertaining situations. Gabriel LaBelle plays the protagonist for most of the film with bright-eyed energy and charm; Paul Dano plays his gentle, scientific, emotionally stiff father beautifully, while Michelle Williams plays her husband’s quasi-polar opposite, an artistic-inclined, slightly off-kilter, equally gentle mother. Her performance is wonderful. Spielberg is mostly working with his traditional cadre of below-the-line collaborators, and they are all masters of their crafts operating at the height of their capabilities: composer John Williams, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, production designer Rick Carter.
The second aspect is how this deeply personal but somewhat fictional account of the director’s teenage years informs the themes at work in his films. Here, having some knowledge of his filmography helps, and while it could be argued that people will take out of art what they bring within their own emotional baggage, it is possible, with this story being told, to see why some of his recurring themes are present in his work. In any case, this film offers lots of insights into one of the most popular artists of the last five decades. All in all, win-win.