The first reviews of Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans are in, and critics are largely praising the film for being personal without sacrificing grandeur. Spielberg is one of the most popular living filmmakers in Hollywood today. The three-time Oscar winner first struck gold with the 1975 shark thriller Jaws, which is generally credited with ushering in the age of the summer blockbuster. He went on to prove his ability at crafting spectacle, helming hit after hit through the decades, including 1981’s Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1993’s Jurassic Park, 2005’s War of the Worlds, and 2018’s Ready Player One. However, he also began to divide his attention between big popcorn spectacles and more sober-minded historical films, making films like the Holocaust drama Schindler’s List and the Alice Walker adaptation The Color Purple, many of which were also huge hits.
One of the few things the director has tended to shy away from is any representation of himself onscreen, which will change with Spielberg’s new movie The Fabelmans, due in theaters on November 11. The film, similarly to recent projects like Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, will be a fictionalized account of his own childhood, following 16-year-old Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) during his childhood in post-World War II Arizona, when he turns to filmmaking after discovering a family secret. The ensemble cast of the film also includes Jeannie Berlin, Julia Butters, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, Michelle Williams, and Eraserhead director David Lynch.
Last night, The Fabelmans premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and critics have been able to share their thoughts ahead of the film’s official theatrical release. They have praised the film for being a personal document of his complicated relationship with his parents, more directly addressing a topic that has clearly fascinated him throughout his career. However, in spite of its smaller scope, most agree that it’s still an emotional epic that swept them away. Read quotes from selected critics below:
Ross Bonaime, Collider:
With The Fabelmans, Spielberg finally opens himself up to the audience in an extremely vulnerable and moving way. For decades, Spielberg has shown us ourselves through the magic of his movies, and with The Fabelmans, he finally shows us who he is, the good and the bad, and pain and the joys, the magic and the mayhem. Like with last year’s West Side Story, Spielberg has proven himself an undeniable master that can still surprise us with his abilities all these years later, a filmmaker who has consistently changed the possibilities of film, and continues to do so with each new project. Spielberg has given us all so much magic over the course of our lives, and The Fabelmans becomes yet another Spielberg masterpiece, but this time, by showing us how this magic came to be in his own life.
Peter Debruge, Variety:
He’s clearly more focused on doing right by his parents, going out of his way to give Williams the great acting opportunities: a delirious late-night dance, multiple piano recitals and a mother-son reconciliation scene where she tells the boy (whose father has never approved of his “hobby”), “You do what your heart says you have to so you don’t owe anyone your life.”
Pete Hammond, Deadline:
Performance-wise the casting could not be better. Williams is astonishing as Mitzi, a mother trying desperately to keep her family together as she can’t help but follow her heart. Williams is gut-wrenchingly great here. Dano is terrific as the genuinely nice and loving father torn between following his own career and caring for his wife and family under increasingly difficult circumstances. Both the younger Sammy (DeFord) and the primary older Sammy (LaBelle) look remarkably like Spielberg did at their ages and are equally excellent.
Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post:
There is a palpable feeling throughout that unlike the director’s recent, capable films like “West Side Story” or “The Post,” Spielberg needed to make this one. That he’s had this idea and these raw feelings lying dormant for decades. That otherwise he might explode. The thrilling result of his behind-the-camera therapy is some of the director’s finest work in years, and a movie that feels, for the first time in forever, like a bona fide Spielberg film.
Steve Pond, The Wrap:
The film shows a light touch that doesn’t detract from the very real depths that are being explored. That “The Fabelmans” is one of Steven Spielberg’s most personal movies was never in doubt; that it’s also one of his most original and most satisfying in years is a welcome bonus.
At the time of writing, these early reviews have landed The Fabelmans at an 88% rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. If this score can hold film when the rush of new reviews comes in ahead of its theatrical premiere, it will eventually be Certified Fresh. Although his career is full of highs and lows, spanning from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial at 99% to Hook at 29%, The Fabelmans is currently tied with his 2017 newspaper drama The Post as the fifteenth highest-rated project in his filmography, showing how beloved his work tends to be.
Considering how earnest Spielberg’s approach to The Fabelmans is reported to be, it makes sense that the film would succeed with critics. Time and again, the director has proven his ability to bring unalloyed emotion to the screen. Although the new film is much less of a popcorn spectacle than many of his previous films, including many of his historical dramas, he’s clearly still adept at painting with big emotions.
Source: Various (see above)