Gerry Hartman’s review published on Letterboxd:
more than a simple “ode to the magic of cinema” (which it also undoubtedly is), this is deeply specific in its personal details, full of regret and sadness but also warmth and light. stunningly dense as a treatise on memory and art - how they work in tandem and intersect, complement and battle each other, and how film can sort the truth out of them (but also when it’s unable to). unabashedly sentimental but doesn’t ever feel false or posturing. clearly a therapeutic work, and operates on multiple levels for that reason - we’re watching a movie about how the small details we accumulate in life come together in our art for our own catharsis as well as the enjoyment of others, while watching that exact process happen to the surrogate character of this film’s director. it’s hilarious on some level to make a movie about how you were preternaturally goated from the start, but like… he was. it’s just true. more than that though, it’s about the lens art puts onto reality - it’s “simulated” by virtue of being framed and captured, but reflects truth with an almost uncomfortable, powerful authenticity. this is seen in how “sammy” (steven) uses his camera to both expose and cope with his parents’ gradual separation. it’s beyond a passion - it’s survival.
like many, I grew up with spielberg’s films and have studied him for most of my life. many of the scenes in this film are stories I’ve heard him tell in interviews, and many of my earliest notable experiences with film can be attributed to his work, so watching an unabashedly emotional rendering of his classic pet themes in a more bracing, personal context was profoundly emotional. I’m making it sound like more of a cry fest than it is, because it’s constantly entertaining and hilarious. and if I wasn’t already astounded, spielberg shoots a key dramatic reveal in this like it’s a mix of blow up and blow out, and then concludes the movie with an incredible appearance by a certain person playing a certain filmmaker - you probably already know but if you don’t… I was elated. funny, knowing, reflective, so beautifully honed in to the idiosyncrasies of memories and the messiness of expression. this is top 5 spielberg material. undoubtedly movie of the year. create or die.