Of all of his many films, Steven Spielberg has never brought one to TIFF… until now. His latest film, The Fabelmans, is certainly his most personal one yet, and while it does struggle with a few over-indulgences, it’s mostly just an all-around excellent film.
Inspired by Spielberg’s own childhood, the film follows a young Jewish boy who grows up in America and finds a profound love for the cinema. The comparisons to last year’s Belfast are obvious — a filmmaker telling a semi-autobiographical story of how they found a profound love for the movies against the backdrop of tumultuous social change.
At two-and-a-half-hours long, some may wonder whether the film feels bloated, and for the most part, the answer is no. Spielberg, along with frequent collaborating screenwriter Tony Kushner, have created a crowd-pleasing, entertaining film that is much more comedic than audiences likely expected.
The young actors who played the younger versions of Spielberg are both very talented. Mateo Zoryna Francis-Deford is charming playing the director as a child, but it is Gabriel LaBelle who truly shines as the teenage Spielberg stand-in. LaBelle manages to make the role feel distinctly his own while channeling the world’s most famous director, rather than making it merely an impersonation.
Of course, the film also benefits from having an absolutely stacked supporting cast. Paul Dano has the biggest role as the young aspiring filmmaker’s father, delivering some of his best, most tender work yet. Michelle Williams is also great as his mother, playing it much more exaggerated than Dano but still quite good. And Seth Rogen plays the character’s family friend/”uncle” and has some surprisingly emotional moments for him.
While the three main supporting players are great, it’s some of the people with even smaller roles that steal the show. Judd Hirsch has a phenomenally memorable turn as the uncle who gives the protagonist some hilariously unintelligible words of wisdom. There is a scene-stealing cameo from filmmaker David Lynch that stands out as one of the film’s best moments.
Of course, with a director like Spielberg, you know that he is going to have a team of artisans below the line that are the best of the best. Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is simply gorgeous, especially when he is recreating the home movies that Spielberg made in his youth. John Williams also delivers another absolute all-timer of a score.
The Fabelmans has gotten a lot of Oscar buzz thanks to the combination of its Hollywood-friendly story with A-list talent both in front of and behind the camera, but it’s also just because it’s an excellent film. Spielberg has created one of his warmest films in years, and while it’s not perfect, it’s the type of film that only he could make. 9/10.
The Fabelmans screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which runs September 8-18.