...[a] slender, uncommonly absorbing critical biography which chronicles with exquisite care and wonderfully animated prose the path leading from the ancestral milieu of mid-century Cincinnati, where Spielberg’s paternal grandfather had worked as a pushcart peddler, through the various triumphs (and intermittent misfires) in the Hollywood dream factories ... Arguably the most valiant achievement of Haskell’s Spielberg is that, without too much coaxing, she manages to convince her readers, myself among them, to return to the individual films and to reappraise them on their own terms ... Haskell does not hold back her praise or her trenchant, frequently illuminating criticism.
The exploration here is lively, the critic is deeply informed, and she approaches her mandate with a calmness of inquiry that is a gift often bestowed on the outsider anthropologist impervious to tribal influences ... The result is a fascinating jumble of messages — a study of a critic inevitably analyzing herself as she considers the life (Jewish and otherwise) of Steven Spielberg ... Such stinging observations may have little to do with her subject’s Jewish journey, but they make for tasty, tart little treyf surprises to offset the lulls where the author appears enervated by the story she has been assigned to tell.
Haskell is much better with regards to his early, pre-Schindler’s work. It is primarily these films from the first half of his career that she’s referring to in the beginning of the book as the sort that she doesn’t care for, and if she isn’t quite able to convince herself of their merit, she does perform the far more interesting critical task of describing exactly what it is that she believes is the motivating creative force behind them ... Not surprisingly, Haskell’s most nuanced critique of this period concerns Spielberg’s treatment of women, along with the attendant questions of domesticity, sex, and glamour ... Unfortunately, just as Spielberg’s films continue to improve in Haskell’s estimation, she seems to run out of interesting things to say about them ... Sticking to strictly biographical interpretation, Haskell finds in many of these movies echoes of the various anxieties that accompany parenthood, including the urge to reconsider one’s own upbringing. But her takes on these feel much more superficial than her interrogations of his older films, and she doesn’t do much more with this theme than simply point it out where it occurs.