Loved this even more on second viewing. This movie really didn't need to be this good, it could have just been a two hour long version of that first sequence with kid Sammy, all about how »the movies sure are magic« or whatever. Instead it's a much more complicated movie about, yes, the joy and magic of finding your passion, but also about how there's a selfishness to dedicating your life to art. Sammy is clearly a uniquely gifted artist, but the same gifts of perception that let him see what others don't and capture something real in his art also make him view every experience as »material« and put him at a remove from the people around him.
I love how the movie blurs the line between remembering and making-shit-up. Everything feels completely real and highly artificial at the same time. Characters act like real people one moment and then deliver a prepared speech about some grand life-lesson the next (sidenote: I genuinely want to know if Spielberg has seen Wet Hot American Summer, cause the break-up scene at the prom is basically the speech Marguerite Moreau gives to Michael Showalter at the end with fewer jokes; this is a compliment). I have to assume that something like that scene with the bully towards the end must be pulled pretty directly from memory (only real people act that insane), but then that same scene also contains some of the most movie-ass, wink-at-the-camera lines of the whole thing. Spielberg »finally tells his own story« or whatever, but constantly reminds you that that story is as much bullshit as any of his other movies, and then makes you think that maybe there's some deeper truth in that bullshit after all.
So I guess it *is* about »the magic of cinema«, but, you know, in a more interesting way than other movies of its kind, a way that feels more earned and more honest.