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Movie review: The Fabelmans

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The Fabelmans opens with a memorable example – Cecil B. DeMille’s circus picture, The Greatest Show on Earth, which climaxes with a train accident. Sammy is thoroughly shaken up by this spectacle and when Burt and Mitzi buy him a model train, he promptly crashes it, to Burt’s dismay. But once again, Mitzi understands. She suggests that he choreograph another pile-up and her son goes on to exorcise his fear by using his camera to film it.

The camera becomes Sammy’s extra limb – or, more aptly, his third eye. By putting things on film, he can better comprehend them but these truths also come at a price. It’s the camera which leads him to the realisation that Mitzi is in love with Bennie (Seth Rogen), his father’s best friend, for Bennie can do something Burt can’t – make her laugh.

Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy Fabelman.Credit:Merie Weismiller Wallace/Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment

While the film is the most personal that Spielberg has ever made, full of wistful insights into the tragedy spawned by Burt and Mitzi’s mismatched temperaments, it also shows how deeply he’s steeped himself in the Hollywood movie’s genres and syntax. Running in tandem with the story of Sammy’s life at home is a typical high school movie about his misadventures as a Jewish kid being bullied by the jocks among his Californian classmates. But here, too, the camera proves to be his most powerful weapon, securing his popularity because he knows how to turn his fellow students into movie stars – and villains.

Spielberg has packed all these things into a deceptively simple narrative which flows so smoothly that it’s easy to miss its finer points. In that sense, it crystallises his innate ability to translate the most delicate subtleties into entertainment.


The Fabelmans opens with a memorable example – Cecil B. DeMille’s circus picture, The Greatest Show on Earth, which climaxes with a train accident. Sammy is thoroughly shaken up by this spectacle and when Burt and Mitzi buy him a model train, he promptly crashes it, to Burt’s dismay. But once again, Mitzi understands. She suggests that he choreograph another pile-up and her son goes on to exorcise his fear by using his camera to film it.

The camera becomes Sammy’s extra limb – or, more aptly, his third eye. By putting things on film, he can better comprehend them but these truths also come at a price. It’s the camera which leads him to the realisation that Mitzi is in love with Bennie (Seth Rogen), his father’s best friend, for Bennie can do something Burt can’t – make her laugh.

Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy Fabelman.

Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy Fabelman.Credit:Merie Weismiller Wallace/Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment

While the film is the most personal that Spielberg has ever made, full of wistful insights into the tragedy spawned by Burt and Mitzi’s mismatched temperaments, it also shows how deeply he’s steeped himself in the Hollywood movie’s genres and syntax. Running in tandem with the story of Sammy’s life at home is a typical high school movie about his misadventures as a Jewish kid being bullied by the jocks among his Californian classmates. But here, too, the camera proves to be his most powerful weapon, securing his popularity because he knows how to turn his fellow students into movie stars – and villains.

Spielberg has packed all these things into a deceptively simple narrative which flows so smoothly that it’s easy to miss its finer points. In that sense, it crystallises his innate ability to translate the most delicate subtleties into entertainment.

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