13 July 2018 | gortx
An emotional roller-coaster with some questions left lingering
Stories about Twins (and other pairs of siblings) separated at birth aren't all that uncommon - but, triplets? Director Tim Wardle takes that rare occurrence and runs with it in the breathless and highly entertaining first section of his Documentary THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS. Wardle also cleverly edits his footage (including the interviews) in order to preserve as many surprises about the secrets and lies to come later in the movie. Some might argue that Wardle's technique is a bit of cheat, but, for those who enter without knowing the full story it enhances the viewing, even if it does cause some issues later on.
The story is told quite sequentially, and, again, that is in service of providing more drama as the Doc unfolds. Because the events go back to the 60s, many of the participants aren't around any longer to speak for themselves. Still, Wardle and his team managed to assemble a good cross-section of survivors to go on the record. Because the story was such a cause celebre in the early 80s (and in the NYC area to boot) we are also able to see a decent amount of historical footage of the triplets and their rise to fame including trips to the Today show, Donahue and a brief cameo in Susan Seidelman's DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (supposedly at the behest of star Madonna). Some fairly minor dramatic re-enactments are also employed, and aren't distracting (Wardle also maintains the proper aspect ratio in much of the vintage footage - to his credit).
As the true tale turns darker, a few issues with the filmmaking arrive. I won't delve into spoilers (I avoided them myself in order for the Doc to have maximum impact), but, the old Nurture vs. Nature debate becomes a key point of contention - as it does with all of these 'separated at birth' cases. Because of the way Wardle structures his editing, we mostly get the 'Nature' perspective until very late in the process. Further, a major cache of evidence is dropped in at the very last moment, and isn't sufficiently analyzed. It's understood that after five years in the making, Wardle, Raw, Neon and other production entities wanted to get their movie done and released, but one can't help but feel the editing was wrapped up in order to get a prized Sundance Film Festival spot. Wardle also includes a couple of curious montages repeating what we've seen earlier as if he had an eye on TV showings (CNN is set to show it). But, these problems pale compared to Wardle's casting a light on some highly unethical behavior that effected the triplets' lives.
These relatively minor issues aside, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS again shows why there is a bit of Documentary boom going on. In a cinema dominated by Superhero and Animated flicks, there is a yearning among some adults for movies of substance and reality. STRANGERS is a true emotional roller-coaster.