(director/writer: Steven Spielberg; screenwriters: Tony Kushner; cinematographer: Janusz Kaminski; editor: Sarah Broshar/Michael Kahn; music: John Williams; cast: Michelle Williams (Mitzi Fabelman), Paul Dano (Burt Fabelman), Seth Rogen (Benny Loewy), Gabriel LaBelle (Sammy Fabelman), Judd Hirsch (Uncle Boris), Jeanne Berlin (Hadasseh Fabelman), Julia Butters (Reggie Fabelman), Robin Bartlett (Tina Schildkraut), Keeley Karsten (Natalie Fabelman), David Lynch (Himself), Chloe East (Monica); Runtime: 151; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Kristie Macosko Krieger/Steven Spielberg/Tony Kushner; Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment; 2022)
“An endearing intimate drama.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The 75-year-old Steven Spielberg (“Saving Private Ryan”/”A.I. Artificial Intelligence“) directs and co-writes with Tony Kushner his highly personal childhood memoir on his family life and early filmmaking struggles. It’s overlong (at 150 minutes it could have used some trimming and still would have told its story), but is nevertheless an endearing intimate drama. Of his 30-plus movies, this is one where the great storyteller reveals more about himself than in any of his other films.
It surprisingly depicts the anti-Semitism and bullying Spielberg endured growing up while attending school in California and the marital infidelity that divided his recently deceased mother and father.
Mitzi Fabelman (a.k.a. Leah Spielberg) is played by Michelle Williams. She’s depicted as a devoted mom and as an eccentric free spirit, whose workaholic hubby Burt, a decent family man of the Eisenhower era of the 1950s, is played by Paul Dano. Mom supports the filmmaking aspirations of her son, Sammy (a.k.a. Steven Spielberg, played by Gabriel LaBelle as a teen and Mateo Zoryna Francis-DeFord as a child), even though he disrupts family life by obsessively filming all the time, especially the crashes of his toy trains and cars.
In 1952, Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Greatest Show on Earth,” the first movie Spielberg saw, was with his family. Sammy’s shock at seeing a train come towards him from the big screen made a lasting impression and would play a part in how he shot several sequences of his later films.
For most of the film Gabriel LaBelle plays Spielberg as a teen, who wrestles with his passion for making films while struggling to live with the slow decay of his parents’ marriage.
Even if avoiding some of his darker childhood moments, the popular director still leaves himself vulnerable by revealing so many of his fears and short-comings.
To his dismay and mom’s, the family relocate from New Jersey to Arizona to California, as Burt’s work career takes off. These moves put a damper on mom’s aspirations to be concert pianist and leave him feeling unsettled.
The jokey Benny (Seth Rogen) is Burt’s best friend, who the family refer to as Uncle Benny, whose closeness to his mom alerted her son that he was more than just a friend.
The John Williams score works fine. The Janusz Kaminski photography is gorgeous. The Michelle Williams performance is Oscar worthy, as is the touching, handsome character-driven earnest film.
It played at the Toronto International Film Festival, that Spielberg attended.
REVIEWED ON 11/2/2022 GRADE: B