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The Magic of Movies: A TIFF Review of ‘The Fabelmans’

September 16, 2022Ben MK

One of the most acclaimed, influential and beloved filmmakers of all time, Steven Spielberg has gifted moviegoers of all ages with some of the most awe-inspiring and emotionally moving blockbusters ever to grace the big screen. From Jaws to Jurassic Park, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to Schindler's List, Spielberg's films can always be counted on to leave audiences on the edge of their seats and to tug on their heartstrings. And now, with The Fabelmans, the 75-year-old director has crafted what is undoubtedly his most intensely personal and profoundly poignant movie ever, in this semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age drama about a boy and his love for cinema.

Beginning in 1952 and unfolding over the course of roughly a decade, the film tells the story of Sammy Fabelman (played as a young boy by Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord and as a teenager by Gabriel LaBelle). The second youngest among his three siblings, Reggie (Julia Butters), Natalie (Keeley Karsten) and Lisa (Sophia Kopera), Sammy's fascination with the moviegoing experience began at an early age, when his parents, Mitzi and Burt (Michelle Williams and Paul Dano), took him to see a matinee showing of The Greatest Show on Earth. Ever since then, Sammy's obsession with films and the art of filmmaking has only grown stronger. But as he goes through the trials and tribulations of being a Jewish high school student in 1960s California, and as he begins to observe the once-close relationship between his mother and father slowly disintegrate, Sammy starts to find his love of movies waning. What follows will not only shape Sammy into the man he's destined to become, it will also redefine his family. Yet, throughout all the ups and downs, Sammy never loses that sense of hope that allows him to touch the hearts and minds of those who are just as passionate about films as he is.

Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, the result is an intimate journey into Spielberg's boyhood years that, while enlightening, is unlikely to change the way we look at the Hollywood icon. What The Fabelmans does excel at, however, is reaffirming the special power that movies have to unite and uplift us. And in a world such as the one we all live in today, it's hard to think of anything more vital or more magical than that.

The Fabelmans screens under the Special Presentations programme at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 31 min.

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