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Five Cent Cine (At Home): Three Identical Strangers

Nature or nurture?

Tim Wardle’s “Three Identical Strangers” starts simply enough with the 1980 meeting of identical triplets who, until they are 19, do not know they have biological siblings, much less identical ones.

As this encounter unfolds, one triplet discovers that he appears to be a twin because they serendipitously attend the same college. Then the publicity from the two of them leads to their discovery of a third brother. The young men experience the joy of finding their identical (or nearly so) selves, move in together, open a restaurant together, and become celebrities together as their story becomes known.

The documentary juxtaposes home movies from the boys as they grow up in three very different family settings, not so far apart geographically, but totally unknown to each other and to each other’s families. The film deftly explores their psychologies, using interviews with them as they basked in celebrity and later, when the glow wears off, and as they are today.

But wait, there’s more. The placement of the baby boy triplets is itself a mystery, one presented with some recreated scenes. To say more would be to spoil the film, which has a depth to its story that Wardle unspools with suspense. The film won the Special Jury Prize in Storytelling at Sundance last year.

“Three Identical Strangers” would have benefitted from more exploration of the social and cultural norms of the era in which the boys were placed for adoption. With that caveat, it’s a worthy effort, a “stranger than fiction” documentary.

Date: 2018

Director: Tim Waddle

Starring: Robert Shafran, Eddy Galland, David Kellman (as themselves)

Three Identical Strangers ★★★1/2 (out of 4 stars)

Other Awards: 11 wins, 57 nominations, including Primetime Emmys

Runtime: 96 minutes

Original publication date: 2.15.19

Available: Streaming on Hulu, for rent or purchase on Redbox, Apple TV and many other sites; see JustWatch here.

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Written by 2 Film Critics

2 Film Critics

William Graebner is Emeritus Professor of History, State University of New York, Fredonia, where he taught courses on film and American culture. He is the author or co-author of 11 books and more than 50 scholarly articles, including essays on “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” and zombie films as they relate to the Holocaust. Dianne Bennett, the first woman to head a large U.S. law firm, is a retired U.S. tax lawyer.

Dianne and Bill were early and passionate attendees at the Toronto Film Festival, and today enjoy the film scenes of Los Angeles, Rome, London, and Buffalo, New York. They began reviewing films for the Rome-based website “TheAmerican/inItalia” in 2016, have maintained a blog on Rome for a decade, and published two alternative guidebooks to the Eternal City. They still can’t resist going to the movies, not to mention the ensuing discussions, sometimes heated, over a bottle of Arneis at the nearest wine bar.

​And that's just the beginning of our reviewing process. For one or two hours we discuss the film, as one of us takes notes. The notetaker transcribes the notes and prints two copies. Dianne or Bill (usually depending on who had the most compelling understanding of the film, or who was most taken with it) writes the first draft of the review--supposedly taking into account the views of the other--which is followed by 3, 4, or even 7 more drafts. At some point, sometimes days later, when we're both comfortable with the result (or accepting of it, anyway), it's done.

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