Film Capsule: Stories We Tell

It’s an age-old premise, the notion that all’s the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players. But it’s earned increased relevance given the transparent zeitgeist we live in, driven – in large part – by an unprecedented insistence upon instant gratification. In many ways, evolution has had its way with us, transforming life, love and the pursuit of happiness into a petty, fleeting game of one-ups-man-ship.

I mean, it’s all so goddamn easy, right? You meet someone, you fall in love, you get married, have a couple of children, and then you systematically begin dumping on each other until the mutual respect has given way to mass defiance. This is what it means to hurt the ones you love the most. This is also the incidental essence of Sarah Polley’s semi-fascinating documentary, Stories We Tell.

StoriesĀ chronicles Polley’s exhaustive investigation into her deceased mother’s past, revealing – among other things – the secret identity of Sarah’s biological father. The drama unfolds in real time (interspersed with Super-8 footage of hand-picked actors reenacting past events), as translated by close family members and friends, each of whom were either privy to or effected by the sequence of events leading up to Sarah’s birth.

Sarah’s mother, Diane, was a small-time Canadian actress – a textbook extrovert who felt the need to dominate every conversation, if for no better reason than to keep the focus from turning to her. And the beauty of Stories We Tell is that it feeds moviegoers the truth about Diane in tiny bite-sized morsels (i.e., backstory, commentary, revelation … backstory, commentary, revelation, etc.). There’s a sense of intimacy here, not unlike the voyeuristic feeling one gets from uncovering a long-lost reel of home videos. The only problem being that – much like the majority of home videos – the allure of this one wears off long before the show is actually over.

The final half-hour of Stories is really little more than Sarah’s immediate cluster waxing eloquent about the film itself. And yet, despite that, there’s still an incredibly rich narrative here, told by everyday people, many of whom demonstrate a certain knack for being on-camera. In the final analysis, Stories We Tell proves a testament to the notion that both life and love are fleeting, at best, and too few us ever really take the time to examine either one until it’s already too late.

(Stories We TellĀ opens in New York City this coming Friday, with plans for a rollout in most major markets on May 17th.)