A bit of the old Spielberg magic

The bad news is this film isn't quite as good as it thinks it is. The good news is that it thinks it's utterly remarkable, which does leave plenty of room for a seriously strong cinema visit — and, yeah, it will benefit from the silverscreen, MAC and The Electric are both showing it. We're very much not in multiplex territory.

Gabriel LaBelle stars as Sammy Fabelman, a young aspiring filmmaker heavily based on director Steven Spielberg's own childhood in 50s and 60s Arizona. Young Sammy falls in love with movies — of course he does — after his parents take him to see The Greatest Show on Earth. Armed with a camera, he starts to make his own films at home, at scouts and pretty much anywhere he can. Therein lies the premise but the backdrop is a family bond fraying at the edges and pretty quickly spiralling towards divorce. It will pluck hard on the strings, in fact, of anyone whose childhood was burned by the tumultuous effects of a failing marriage.

Spielberg, now 76, waited until his parents had died before putting his own story to film and they would, perhaps, thank him for that, such is the gut-punching emotion that plays out, Michelle Williams (above) blindingly good as Sammy's mother, Mitzi, and Paul Dano decent as father Burt. Seth Rogan, meanwhile, plays family friend Bennie with skilled nuance.

There are more than a few moments here of the old Spielberg charm — it often even feels, dare I say it, like something of a companion piece to E.T. — but, given it's semi-autobiographical, Steve-o does well to ease off on those touches, choosing perhaps not to lacquer his own life with potentially misleading moments of magic. But there is magic within, make no mistake.

If you can overlook the moments of well-trodden High School clichés, there's more than enough here to make for a good night out. Possibly not enough for seven Oscar nominations, but you'll leave pleased with your outlay on tickets and snacks. Out tomorrow, January 27