Opening 9 Mar 2023
Writing credits: Steven Spielberg, Tony Kushner
Principal actors: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Gabriel LaBelle, Mateo Zoryan
It’s winter in Jersey as Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano) take eight-year-old Sammy (Mateo Zoryon) to his first movie experience entitled The Greatest Show on Earth. The film ends with a spectacular train crash using a miniature train set just like the one Sammy has at home. At first his parents think he was traumatized but later come to realize these images have made a strong impact on his future development. Moving to Arizona in the 1950s gives Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle) an opportunity to develop his passion for filmmaking. A semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story, director Steven Spielberg finally brings his own family’s story to the big screen through the eyes of the fictional character Sammy. While Sammy explores the power of the camera in developing new innovations, both experimental and technological in his films, he discovers the need to see the truth about both his dysfunctional family and the world around him. Through the lens, he recaptures the appreciation of his mom and dad being not only his parents but as real people dealing with their own individual realities. Spielberg dedicates this film to both his parents Leah Adler and Arnold Spielberg who were both remarkable in their own lives. It is interesting to know that Spielberg’s mother was a concert pianist and artist who died at the age of 97. Arnold Spielberg was an electrical engineer whose greatest contribution was to develop the first computer- controlled “point of sale” cash register and lived to be the age of 103.
This film is not only a tribute to his parents but also his filmmaking career. It is embedded with his past films that he had shot, but this time he had the chance to improve them using Super 8 and 16-mm footage making this film a magical experience. Looking at what Spielberg has accomplished in his lifetime can take your breath away. The Fabelmans clearly ranks as one of his best films along with ET (1982), Jaws (1973), Schindler’s List (1993), Catch Me If You Can (2002), and many more. It is not a surprise that The Fabelmans has won numerous awards including Best Film at the 80th Golden Globes; it is certainly a film worth watching. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)
Director Steven Spielberg is a legend - he is said to be the most successful film director of all time. At age 76, his movie-making career spans over 50 years. He has been nominated 19 times for Academy Awards, and won the Oscar three times. Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, and of course Schindler's List are among his most acclaimed and successful films. At this year's Berlinale, he will receive the Honorary Golden Bear for lifetime achievement.
There, in Berlin, will be the German opening of The Fabelmans, which is coming with lots of advance praise such as seven Oscar nominations. Semi-biographical, it is Steven Spielberg's homage to his own journey to becoming a famous director, and thus his most personal film to date. It starts in 1952 in New Jersey, when his parents Burt (Paul Dano) and Mitzi (Michelle Williams) take their 8-year old son Sammy (Mateo Zoryan, later, as a teenager, played by Gabriel LaBelle) to the cinema to watch Cecil B. deMille's The Greatest Show on Earth. The scene of the train crash makes such an impact on young Sammy, that his wish for Hanukkah is a toy train set. With the help of his mother borrowing his father's 8mm camera, he crashes the expensive train, to recreate the scene. He continues filming his younger sisters in home movies, becoming more and more involved in what his father, who has a technical mind, believes is a hobby, but his mother, a pianist who gave up her career for her family, recognizes as a great artistic potential. Soon the family moves to Arizona, where Sam's father has another job offer, taking along Burt's business partner and friend Bennie (Seth Rogen). After an outing to a camping ground with the family and Bennie, which Sam filmed, Sam makes an unsettling discovery looking at the footage, involving Bennie and his mother.
Meanwhile, Sam's father is offered another job, this time by IBM, and this time in Northern California. However, Bennie is not included in the job offer and stays behind in Arizona. Mitzi is deeply distressed, and Sam has a number of very unpleasant anti-semitic experiences at his new school, due to the fact that he is the only Jew at school. Eventually Mitzi leaves Burt and Sam, takes Sam's sisters and returns to Arizona to live with Bennie. Sam is writing letters of application to film and television studios, and in a fantastic scene at the end of the movie meets John Ford (wonderfully played by David Lynch). And the rest, as we say, is history... Enjoy this entertaining, well-constructed, coming-of-age movie, with a superb performance given by Michelle Williams as Sammy's mother Mitzi. (Ulrike Lemke)
Perhaps not quintessential, nevertheless the Fabelmans are a distinct family. Sammy’s (Mateo Zoryan) a young lad when Mitzi and Burt (Michelle Williams and Paul Dano respectively) take him to see The Greatest Show on Earth. When his curiosity and fantasies overwhelm Sammy, they humor him. For Hanukkah he receives his wished-for train set, and mom allows him to use dad’s 8mm camera to record re-enactments. Subsequently, Sammy’s younger sisters Reggie, Natalie, and Lisa (Alina Brace, Birdie Borria, Sophia Kopera respectively) are in the cast. When work moves the family to Arizona in 1957 Bennie (Seth Rogen), Burt’s best buddy and partner in business, joins them. They happily settle into the Phoenix lifestyle; Sammy’s (Gabriel LaBelle) preoccupation with filming intensifies. Mitzi's Uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch) visits unexpectedly and, from past experiences, gives Sammy some advice. About that time Sammy realizes Burt is a computer genius, just as Mitzi’s piano playing is concert-level. Dad’s next promotion leaves Bennie behind, although he gifts Sammy a big-boy’s movie-making camera. Life is good, until it is not. But that is just the beginning.
Director Steven Spielberg’s loosely autobiographical screenplay, co-written with Tony Kushner, is chock-a-block full of all the petty, silly, mindless, and humorous, daring, reasonable, kind, and loving foibles humans are capable of. The main character is fictional; the strong cast performances carry the antics while neither pandering to shtick or melodrama. Williams’s character’s frustration, depression-induced volatility, and quietude is portrayed with energy and compassion. David Lynch plays John Ford. Production values excel as per Spielberg’s usual: Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography, Sarah Broshar and Michael Kahn’s editing, and John Williams’s film score.
Although the Fabelmans are atypical, dysfunctional is too strong a description. Obviously mis-matched, tensions build up between the parents, they are at odds sometimes, yet destructive they are not. They communicate, there is consensus in childrearing, and despite disappointing developments they are mannerly. Altogether an interesting family to encounter, traveling along with The Fabelmans is quite a discoverment. A dedication to Spielberg’s parents, Leah Adler and Arnold Spielberg is in the end credits. One of its seven 95th Academy Award nominations is for Best Film. (Marinell Haegelin)