It’s not often that we get a glimpse into the private world of a genius through his own eyes, or in this case, through his camera lens.
Taking quite a bit of inspiration from his childhood, Spielberg has carefully crafted a slightly dysfunctional yet sentimental coming-of-age tale.
Due to its delicate personal content, Spielberg decided not to make this revealing slightly oddball tale until both his parents had passed away.
Although it shows a few glimpses of the genius that would later reveal itself, Steven’s childhood could easily be labelled as being somewhere between the boringly average to questionably eccentric.
The story begins with a six-year-old Sammy Fabelman (Steven’s on-screen alter-ego) played by Mateo Zoryan, displaying a fearful concern about going to see a ‘big screen’ movie for the first time.
Concerned about the impact that the 1952 classic circus movie The Greatest Show On Earth directed by Cecil B. DeMille, would have on the young boy his parents Burt, played by Paul Dano and Mitzi, played Michelle Williams, caringly reassure the hesitant Sammy, that the giant figures on the screen are not real.
Even though his parents believed he was traumatised, it becomes apparent that the boy was captivated by a scene depicting a horrific train crash.
Luckily for millions of filmgoers worldwide, this was an unforgettable, life-changing experience for young Sammy. It becomes evident that this is the first of many pinnacle moments in the young boy’s life.
Not able to forget this realistic-looking piece of cinema trickery, Sammy sets out to replicate the multi-carriage pile-up with his new model train set and father’s home movie camera.
This project sparks his life-long love affair with the art of movie-making.
It is, in fact, an inspirational tale that unexpectedly plays with your emotions intending to make you both laugh and cry as it reveals some of Spielberg’s real-life family secrets.
Playing the creative protagonist as the adolescent wannabe film director Sammy is the charming Gabriel LaBelle.
Revealed in a couple of his homemade movies are a few DIY special effect tricks that could easily still be used in many organically filmed movies today.
As the story unfolds, we are introduced to a screenwriter’s dream ensemble of diverse characters..
From his emotionally fragile, piano-playing mother, Mitzi, and his caring and loving, career-focused father, Burt to his often annoying and sometimes less than loyal defacto uncle Bennie played by Seth Rogen and his surprisingly profound real Uncle Boris, played by Judd Hirsch, they give him both the encouragement and inspiration to create a fantasy world with his camera.
Perhaps one of the most surprising revelations is his encounter with a devout Catholic girl who temps him to talk to Jesus. It also tries its best to convince us that life is always better with a pet monkey.
I suspect that most of the story is true, and hidden beneath the made-up names are real characters and real incidents.
I can’t help feeling that Spielberg, both the writer and director, must have found a lot of therapeutic relief in finally being able to tell his own story his way before Hollywood rewrites it in the style of one of Spielberg’s classic fantasies.
Click below to view the trailer