VOD film review: Three Identical Strangers
Matthew Turner | On 09, Mar 2019
Director: Tim Wardle
Cast: Robert Shafran, David Kellman, Eddy Galland, Brenda Galland, Lawrence Wright, Howard SchneiderLucas, Michael Domnitz
Directed by British filmmaker Tim Wardle, this gripping documentary begins as a delightful feel-good story before taking a sinister turn that is deeply unsettling. As such, it provokes a wide range of different emotions, but it also leaves you with questions that go frustratingly unanswered.
Building on a story uncovered by New York investigative journalist Laurence Wright, Wardle opts to tell his extraordinary tale chronologically, beginning in 1980, when curly-haired 19 year-old Bobby Shafran arrives for his first day at university and is greeted by total strangers as if he’s an old friend. He’s swiftly introduced to Eddy Galland, his identical twin, and the pair conclude they were separated at birth, since they were both adopted. A newspaper picks up their story, which leads to a further shock, when a third identical brother, David Kellman, sees a photo of two of himself in the paper and gets in touch.
Joyfully reunited, the good-looking, personable trio (they look a lot like Andy Samberg) become a media sensation in the 80s, appearing on multiple chat shows and cameoing opposite Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, as well as going into business together and opening a successful New York steakhouse called Triplets. However, all six of their parents angrily demand answers from the Louise Wise adoption agency as to why their sons were separated at birth. The answer, revealed in a painstaking investigation, is simultaneously shocking and disturbing – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Using a mixture of present-day interviews, archival footage and some re-enacted scenes, Wardle tells a fascinating story. Interviewed separately, before later appearing on screen together, Robert and David provide riveting first-person accounts of their story that are frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Eddy, however, is conspicuous by his absence, and the story of what happened to him packs a powerful emotional punch.
The first half of the film is utterly joyful, as the audience effectively gets to re-live the reunion story through Robert and David’s eyes and it’s impossible not to be moved by their obvious delight and wonderment at finding each other. However, the second half is more problematic and the previously easy-flowing story gradually gets bogged down in the details. There’s also a growing sense of frustration, as it becomes painfully clear that several questions will go unanswered (the full records of the experiment aren’t due to be declassified until 2065).
On top of that, Wardle makes some baffling choices. For example, it comes as something of a shock to discover that each of the brothers also had an adopted older sister, also from the Louise Wise agency, yet Wardle makes no subsequent mention of them, and none of them appear in the film. That minor quibble aside, the film is unquestionably worth watching, both for its rollercoaster of emotional extremes and its simply extraordinary story. However, it’s hard not to feel frustrated by the film’s conclusions – it doesn’t exactly leave you with more questions than answers, but it’s about 50-50.