Search Film Reviews

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Photo credit: Ken Woroner
2013, 108 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving sexuality, brief strong language and smoking 

Review by Joshua Handler

Stories We Tell could have simply been a movie about a woman wanting to explore her family's past.  It could have turned into a vanity project that would leave people wondering why they would ever want to watch it.  In the hands of the talented Sarah Polley, though, it turns into a moving, universal documentary structured like a mystery.  It is very rare for me to be completely floored by a movie and even rarer when I cannot think of a single movie that I have ever seen like it.  Stories We Tell accomplished both for me.

Stories We Tell is a movie best seen without much background information.  It is about what happens when Sarah Polley asks her dad and other family members to tell the story of her late mother.  Each has their own version of the story and their own perception of her, creating a complex portrait of a seemingly fascinating woman.  Polley interweaves the riveting interviews with old family footage bringing this incredibly personal story to life.

The genius of Stories We Tell lies in Sarah Polley's own unique gift for storytelling.  As mentioned, this could have been a horribly boring movie that would have only been relevant to Polley and her family.  Instead, by structuring the story like a mystery, she can pull the story back layer by layer, until she completely pulls the rug out beneath us, giving the film an extremely satisfying and moving conclusion and engaging the audience.  By engaging the audience with her tightly coiled story, Polley makes a connection with her viewers, a connection that will not be broken until long after the film's end.

Without going into too much detail, Stories We Tell examines the nature of family stories and how much can be explored by listening to different versions of the same one over and over.  Polley manages to mix these multiple tellings into one cohesive whole.

While I would absolutely love to go into greater depth with this film, I cannot do so with a good conscience.  Stories We Tell is a movie best viewed without knowing much about it.  Do not watch the spoiler-filled trailer or read other reviews before viewing the movie.

Overall, Stories We Tell is a landmark film that, while a little overlong at the end (still riveting, though), is a beautiful and emotionally potent film that I will never forget.  


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