Sammy begins making home movies, and soon discovers how the camera can comfort, thrill and shock. He also learns what cinema tells us about people; how it can elevate them, reflect them, devastate them. Most of all, he learns how it can give us truth. –Empire Magazine

by Roger Childs

Spielberg is in top form

This is a coming of age story with a difference. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it is loosely based on his adolescence in the 1960s. It starts with his Jewish parents taking him as a 7 year old to his first movie “The Greatest Show on Earth” in 1952. The young lad becomes obsessed with the train crash scene and later decides to film it with an early hand-held projector. His future career is now set to unfold and in the final scene, circa age 18, he meets Hollywood director John Ford in Los Angeles.

This is in many ways a gentle film which moves along at a moderate pace, but is an excellent study of a middle class family which ultimately comes apart.

Growing up in America

Sam, he doesn’t like being called Sammy, lives his early years in New Jersey and his father Burt is involved in electronics. To get more career opportunities he takes the family to Phoenix, Arizona. His good friend, Bennie, goes too and inevitably takes a shine to Burt’s wife Mitzi. Sam is now filming anything he can including a family picnic. He is devoted to his Mum and is shocked when the picnic film shows his mother in the background being familiar with Bennie.

In the end Burt takes the family to California without Bennie, much to Mitzi’s dismay, and Sam and his two adolescent sisters go to high school in the Golden State. For Sam, secondary education is mixed bag as he gets a very friendly Christian girlfriend, but is picked on by the school’s Romeo and issues of anti-semitism, promiscuous girls and jealousy are touched on. All the while Sam is active with his filming, but a movie of his class at the beach in the weekend, which is shown at the prom, gets him into trouble.

A quality film
Viewers wanting a high action-packed movie will be disappointed, but the pace of the film matches the story of a family facing change in challenging circumstances. Spielberg resists the temptation to have highly dramatic views of landscapes and beaches, and focuses on Sam’s experiences, especially his film-making obsession and life at high school. Gabriel LaBelle is great as the adolescent Sam and Michelle Williams gives an excellent performance as his lively mother Mitzi. The rest of the cast are also very good, notably Sam’s rather dour father Burt, played by Paul Dano.

The two and a half hours are never dull, and this is a film to cherish based around a family with issues moving west in search of the American dream. Highly recommended.

The Fabelmans (151 minutes) is screening at the Shoreline.