1 September 2013 | bob the moo
Interesting and engaging while also being unsuccessful in its goals
Actress and filmmaker Sarah Polley decides to make this film about her family history, with a particular early focus on her mother who died many years prior. In building the story of her family she draws on all those alive who were involved and this is probably as much as you want to know. Many others have put too many details in their comments without warning and I think this is unfair as this is a film that is better when you come at it without knowing everything. Polley tells this story in a way that is engaging and interesting. Early in the film one of the contributors asks "who would want to know about our family" and it is a fair question since, although it has famous members – they are really not that famous. In reality though the film is structured and delivered in such a way that, while you may not have an interest in this specific family, their story is engagingly told.
On this level I liked the film and I thought it worked well, but I have to disagree with the comments made by many in regard what it else it does. Many have praised the film for showing how stories get fragmented and twisted and how perspectives etc influence their telling and indeed Polley herself lays this out as the goal for the film when she is asked towards the end. Perhaps it is because she said it so clearly that some assumed she'd done this and perhaps it is also the reason why it stood out to me that she didn't, even though I liked what she had done with it. The problem with this goal is that, while the story over the past few decades may have been half-told, twisted and gradually revealed with different people knowing or thinking different things, in the film this is not the case at all. Indeed the thing that makes the story so engaging is that it is so well structured to be gradually delivered, be clear and be interesting on its impact on the family. Everyone contributing knows the full story and while they may have different opinions on small things or motivations of others, there really isn't something like Rashomon here where the same thing is different from different angles. There are no questions left, no doubt at any point really – we get introduced, follow the story quickly and efficiently and are left at the end with everything neatly done.
The irony is that for me the film works well like this. I enjoyed the story and how well told it was and I found the contributors to be honest, human and engaging. It is a very personal and human film and this was the quality I took from it. I still had no reason to care about this specific family over any other, but it worked nonetheless. To me it is almost a shame that Polley laid out this alternative goal because she really doesn't get anywhere near achieving it and indeed if she hadn't said anything about it I would never have guessed such an objective was ever on the table.
It works for what it is, but in terms of its own goals it is unsuccessful – but it still worked for me.