The Movie Waffler Documentary Review - Stories We Tell | The Movie Waffler

Documentary Review - Stories We Tell

Sarah Polley examines her family's reaction to her mother's infidelity.

Directed by: Sarah Polley

Sarah Polley's mother, a popular Canadian stage actress, passed away when Sarah was a child. Her brothers and sisters had often joked that she was the product of an affair between her mother and an actor. Some years ago, Sarah decided to investigate this rumor and found that her father, Michael, wasn't her biological father. This documentary brings together all the parties involved to tell their own takes on the story of her conception. Super 8 footage, featuring actors portraying the younger versions of those involved, is mixed with talking head conversations.
What's more mind-numbing than watching someone else's home movies? Watching a dramatic recreation of someone else's home movies. Especially when it's the home movies of someone as insular and self-centered as Polley comes across here. The Super 8 recreations are clearly based on Polley's ideal of the person her mother was but it's all so white-washed that the footage resembles out-takes from a seventies Coke advertising campaign. There's something a tad disturbing, disrespectful, and a little sick about Polley's attempts to recreate her mother through footage which never actually existed, like one of those many horror movies where mad scientists try to revitalize their lover's corpses. Memories can't be faked, at least not outside the realm of pulp science fiction.
The story itself isn't particularly interesting, though the protagonists involved seem like they could be if Polley allowed them to be themselves. The problem is she exercises a sadistic amount of control, even going so far as to write her own Father's narration. It's a story that could have easily been told in 30 minutes as an episode of a PBS style TV show, but at almost two hours it's a severe test of patience. A story can change depending on the point of view it's told from, is the conclusion Polley comes to, as if this is some remarkable new revelation the actress-turned-filmmaker stumbled upon. The irony is that everyone sticks to almost the same version of the story in this case, and it all quickly becomes repetitive.
Early on, one of Polley's sisters asks "Who cares about our family?". Who indeed? This is one story that really didn't require telling.

Eric Hillis