Stories We Tell

Stories We Tell

I have a soft spot for Sarah Polley, as I’ve watched her
grow up onscreen; my daughter and I used to watch her on TV as Ramona when she was 9 years old. She has
blossomed as an actress and, more recently, as a daring and original filmmaker
with an Oscar nomination to her credit (for the screenplay of Away From Her). But nothing could
prepare us for her latest endeavor.

Stories We Tell is
a remarkable, and moving, exploration of Polley’s family, focusing largely on
the story of her mother, who died when she was young. An outgoing actress who
had a bad first marriage (resulting in two older siblings), she then married
Sarah’s father, Michael Polley, a British-born actor who reads his own
narration throughout the film—offering his self-deprecating version of events,
including his own shortcomings as a husband and father. This multi-layered film
incorporates interviews with Sarah’s three siblings, her dad, and people who
knew her mom. They offer interesting and sometimes contradictory remarks ; one
insists that she was a woman with secrets. Sarah also confronts the actor that
everyone thinks was her biological father…until evidence, and a DNA test, shows
that it was someone else entirely. Each person offers his or her perspective.

The story is illustrated with 8mm color home-movie footage
of Sarah’s lively mom, an actress who also worked as a casting director. But it
turns out only half of this footage is genuine: the rest was re-created by
Polley using lookalike actors, with the camera operator “playing” a family
member in order to give the material an authentically spontaneous, first-person

Revelations continue to the very end of the picture. Sarah
keeps herself out of the story, for the most part, except as an observer, until
she recreates the moment she met her biological father for the first time.

While Stories We Tell
is a highly personal film, it touches on family matters that most of us can
relate to in some way. More important, it plays with our perceptions of reality
and the documentary form. It’s an innovative approach to autobiography that has
no equal, in my memory…and I found it absolutely fascinating.


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Selling out? To make an independently released documentary that played in at most 70 theaters in any given week? And as banked a mind-blowing $1.4 million in box office? Wow, I was under the impression that the expression may be more aptly applied to something like the presence of Jeff Bridges in R.I.P.D. in 3D, or Johnny Depp in the Lone Ranger, or Bradley Cooper in the Hangover 3, or Jeremy Renner in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

I chose to believe that Ms. Polley made a film to memorialize her family – her departed mother and aging father(s). Perhaps it is selfish of her to devote the time to exploring so in depth the differing perspectives on the events that shaped her life while some of the key participants are still alive. But in sharing with us this personal memorial, she reminds us of the value of spending time with family to record perspectives, shares with us the lessons of forgiveness and overcoming bitterness. It's brilliantly done and the conversations between director Sarah and narrator Michael Polley and the end of the film had me coveting the opportunity to have time with my father long ago departed.

G. T. Gray

While the premise is creative and the execution artful, I am bothered by a cheapening of a Sarah Polley's family story by putting it up for public consumption in such an intimate way. With three cinema professionals in the family (including her biological father) and other family members members, who seem all-to-eager to be on the screen, I cannot get past a sense of sellout. I think most established performers cherish their private life and their privacy of their families and would have no need to sell their family story this way. I book would have, perhaps, provided just the distance needed. But a grunge-documentary style airing of the family laundry boarders on tasteless in my opinion.

As a story line, it is certainly substantive, but not remarkable. There are many families with stories more compelling that would sell.


I've been hearing nothing but great things about this film.

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