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22nd Jan 2023

The Fabelmans is Spielberg’s best movie in 10 years

Rory Cashin


Spielberg’s new Oscar-magnet arrives in cinemas this week.

Let us work backwards. 2021’s West Side Story, very good but also the biggest financial flop of Spielberg’s career. 2018’s Ready Player One, a technical feat that audiences were divided over. 2017’s The Post, great at the time but feels less interesting as the years pass. 2016’s The BFG, admit it, you completely forgot he’d done this movie. 2015’s Bridge of Spies, has some great performances but never feels as thrilling as it should.

And so we get to 2012’s Lincoln, the last time Spielberg released a film that felt vital and powerful. And The Fabelmans is Spielberg’s best movie in the decade since.

The opening scene of the movie doesn’t kick things off to a great start, with a viscously syrupy scene with married couple Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and Burt (Paul Dano) explaining the technicalities of how movies are made to their young son, all while they’re in the queue to bring him to see his first ever movie: Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth.

Spielberg is often accused of being too schmaltzy at times, but this is some weapons-grade, thermonuclear mushiness, enough to warrant a hushed exclamation of “Oh no…” as it plays out.

Thankfully, the movie does away with that mawkishness pretty soon, as Spielberg – who co-wrote the screenplay with Tony Kushner (who, by the way, also wrote the script for Lincoln) – turns the movie into his own personal therapy session and performs a deep dive on his childhood, his complicated relationship with his family, and where his love for cinema came from.

Once we’ve established his young love for cinema, we jump forward a bit with now teenage Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle, basically playing young Spielberg), and his dawning awareness that his parents seemingly “perfect” marriage is severely broken.

Not only does this come down to Mitzi’s purely artistic heart and Burt’s aggressively technical mind – there was a fear that this dichotomy of art and technology might play out as a war for Sammy’s soul, but thankfully Spielberg mostly sidesteps that obviousness – but also the presence of Bennie (Seth Rogen), who seems to be Mitzi and Burt’s shared best friend.

The unique scenario of Sammy’s familyscape allows Spielberg to create a truly weird (in a good way) relationship amongst all of the key players, which only continues to become weirder and more entertaining as others are dragged into their dysfunctional dynamic: Sammy’s extremely religious first girlfriend Monica (Chloe East), his terrifying, lion-taming granduncle Boris (Judd Hirsch), and a pair of bigoted bullies, Logan (Sam Rechner) and Chad (Oakes Fegley).

Spielberg’s peerless ability to cast his movies remains in place, as everyone here is beyond reproach, particular relative newcomer LaBelle who has to carry so much of this movie on his shoulders.

While this last year it does feel that a number of the biggest directors decided to go the semi-autobiographical route – including Sam Mendes with Empire Of Light and James Gray with Armageddon Time – we could never begrudge Spielberg wanting to tell us a little bit more of his own story.

Is it one of his best movies ever? No. Would we love to see him return to proper blockbuster types of Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds or Minority Report? 100%. But you’d be hard pressed to be more enraptured by someone working through their childhood memories. It is just an additional bonus that he happens to have delivered his best, most entertaining movie of the last decade in the process.

The Fabelmans arrives in cinemas in Ireland and the UK on Friday, 27 January.

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