The Fablemans

Definitive coming-of-auteur tale.

Autobiographical accounts by accomplished artists can be a hit and a miss. Labors of love often lose focus and meander into watch-watching territory.

This one’s the story of Sammy Fabelman, who realizes at a very young age, after seeing The Greatest Show on Earth in 1952, that he wants to make movies. Since he was not yet 10 years old, there remained only the not-insignificant task of convincing his parents that this was his passion.

But this is not your usual semiautobiographical story, as it’s by and about Steven Spielberg, who’s way too good a filmmaker to fall into the usual self-indulgences. The result is a personal, compelling, and expertly told drama of discovery and perseverance that keeps you interested because, well, the man’s a success because he’s a master storyteller.

Plus it’s an acting masterpiece. The central character is played with a fine balance of naivete and courage by Gabriel LaBelle. But the star is Michelle Williams as his artistic, imperfect mother. It’s a career-best for her, and that’s saying something. A perfectly restrained Paul Dano is his techno-genius father, and Seth Rogen puts in some surprisingly effective work as a family friend. Judd Hirsch has a small but devastatingly good part as Uncle Boris, and see if you can spot David Lynch in a cameo he obviously enjoyed doing. Do not miss the final shot.

So, definitely a must-see, but a memorable classic? Not so sure. (151 min)