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November 16, 2022 11:46 am
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‘The Fabelmans’ Is an Inspiring Jewish Story

avatar by Alan Zeitlin

Opinion

Steven Spielberg and Lian Neeson at the ‘Schindler’s List’ screening at the Tribeca Film Festival. Photo: Alan Zeitlin.

Sammy Fabelman’s got problems. He’s been punched by one bully, called the worst slur a Jew can be called by another, and slapped by his mother.

Sammy, the protagonist of “The Fabelmans,” is meant to be a stand-in for Steven Spielberg, to show how he fell in love with making films, though dramatic liberties have been taken.

We first meet Sammy as he sees his first movie, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” in the early 195os. He gets toy trains for Hanukkah, and he recreates the scene of the crash from the film, eventually recording it, at his mother’s suggestion.

His parents, Burt and Mitzi, are kind, but don’t consider his film aspirations as more than a hobby at first, though he slowly but surely proves his skill. As the adolescent Sammy, Gabriel LaBelle delivers a breakout performance as a young man determined to follow his dreams, showing the right amount of strength, vulnerability, and moral fortitude, while trying to protect a secret he learns about his family.

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His father is an engineer big shot, while his mother could have been a concert pianist. As Burt, Paul Dano is excellent in the role of a sweet father who is anything but an alpha male. As Mitzi, Michelle Williams gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a woman who struggles with the death of her mother and a battle between obligation and desire. In supporting roles, Seth Rogen is extremely impressive as his father’s best friend, Bennie, who constantly jokes, including interrupting a song by a campfire. Judd Hirsch, as Uncle Boris, knocks it out of the park as a grandfather who uses some Yiddish terms and explains that art can eat someone alive.

The film kicks into its highest gear when the family moves from Arizona to California. Chloe East is fantastic, providing comic relief as Monica, a teenager who is either attracted to Sammy, wants to bring him to Jesus, or both. The scene where the two are in her room is unforgettable due to the comic timing.

While there are a few parts that are predictable, the film’s climax is certainly not. Spielberg did move from Arizona to California, but if you are looking for some technical insight into how Spielberg would grow up to make “Jaws” or “Schindler’s List,” you won’t find it here. But you will find a film with a wildly beating heart, a deep soul, and a lot of spirit.

Sammy is frustrated that he doesn’t know what the future has in store, and his relationship with each parent has its strengths and weaknesses.

Bringing some attention to antisemitism, “The Fabelmans” is a nostalgic film that soars not due to any special effects or dramatic action sequences, but rather the purity of it.

Michelle Williams, as Sammy’s mother, tells him he has to go for what his heart tells him to, because he doesn’t owe anybody his life.

“The Fabelmans” is one of the best films of the year. It inspires Jewish pride, and encourages one to follow their passion, as if there may not be a tomorrow.

The author is a writer based in New York.

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