Sammy will learn that life may not be like the movies, but we use the movies to hold on to life and help us understand life. Spielberg co-wrote “The Fabelmans” with his “West Side Story” writer Tony Kushner, and the script is a graceful gem that moves through various chapters of the life of this relatively average family that happened to produce an average filmmaker. Sammy learns hard lessons about his family, and there’s a great midpoint sequence where the very thing he loves is what forces him to look at everything about him in a new light. Judd Hirsch also has a great one-off scene early on as a relative warning Sammy that family and art don’t mix, and one wonders if that conversation is why it’s taken Spielberg so long to tell his own story, even though he also subtly told parts of it throughout his career.
Spielberg obviously knows how to cast and hire, and the team around him here is perfect, including masters such as John Williams and Janusz Kaminski, both doing top-tier, impeccable work. As for the cast, Dano underplays the workaholic father who worries that his son’s hobby won’t land him a real job. Rogen is charming in his scenes as the outsider who admires Sammy’s passion and wants to feed it. LaBelle is a breakout star in the making, especially in later scenes where he becomes even more centrally focused. And then there’s Michelle Williams. It feels like she knew this is the part that will bring all the highlights of her career. She’s been this good for decades now, but she breaks up with Mitzi and absolutely mesmerizes with every decision she makes. She fundamentally understands this character, a woman who feels more and more trapped in her own mundane existence and cannot understand why she is not allowed to be happy. She will break your heart. And then the power of film will put it back together.
Spielberg had never played a film at TIFF, but Rian Johnson is a vet. Three years ago he premieredKnives out” at the Princess of Wales in Toronto, and he returned tonight with its sequel “Glass Onion,” a movie that really follows the sequel model “bigger, faster, more” theory of follow-ups. It’s not meant to be as much of a blow as it sounds, although there will be some who argue that the first film is more breezy and that the whodunits really shouldn’t clock in at 140 minutes. They’re not really wrong, and yet there’s just SO much to enjoy in this film – so many sharp turns, beautiful settings, clever lines and playful performances. In many ways, it’s a more “fun” film than the first – you can feel the joy that everyone on set had as they stepped into Johnson’s puzzle with a script and played their part.