MOVIE REVIEW: Stories We Tell

This hasn’t happened in a very long time: the Wife arranged for a babysitter, and we went to a movie about which I knew ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. When we got to the Spectrum Theatre in Albany on Monday night, I noticed on the movie poster that the director of Stories We Tell was Sarah Polley, who starred in the very good, but kind of depressing The Sweet Hereafter (1997) and directed the very good, but kind of depressing Away From Her (2006).

This movie was a documentary about the family of Sarah Polley. There’s a lot of chatter early on with several players you can’t possibly keep track of- but you will soon enough. The conceit of the title is that we can all tell a story, but it may not be the same one, even regarding the same person and the same events.

I could spend two or three paragraphs explaining how the narrative weaves from Sarah recording her father Michael’s recollection of Sarah’s late mother Diane to others remembering her, not always the same way. But it shall have to suffice to say that the narrative structure was extremely clever, very much like the layers of an onion being peeled away.

In the exploration of the story, which involves incredibly personal revelations, it seems that most of the players were in a better place as a result of the journey that the film captured, reconstructing the truth of their collective and individual lives. Sometimes the participants reacted to Sarah as director, whereas other times as daughter or sister, as they muse on family history.

It’s interesting to me that the critics liked it more on Rotten Tomatoes (95%, at this writing) than the movie-going audience (82%). The Wife and I, and especially the guy sitting in front of us, who had a hearty laugh, really liked the film. Yet I noticed that three or four people of the 14-16 people in the room left the film with about 15 minutes to go, when a film technique was revealed; did they think it was a cheat in a documentary? (I thought it was, if not obvious, then a likely tool.)

I don’t really want to say more, except that I think you’ll find it quite worthwhile. If you see it on DVD, try to see it in one sitting to glean the maximum effect.

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