What would you do if, one random day, you find out that you might be a twin, separated at birth from your sibling? This is exactly what happened to Samantha Futerman, an actress living in the United States (her credits include “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “21 & Over,” and more recently, “The Kroll Show”), who faced this bizarre, movie-like scenario when she got friend requested on Facebook by Anaïs Bordier. Seeing the potential in documenting the experience, Samantha and her friend Ryan Miyamoto co-directed “Twinsters,” which tells the heart-warming story of how Sam and Anaïs connected from different continents and after decades of never knowing the other existed. Sure, it’s hard not to notice that the documentary spins its wheels at times, but there’s something incredibly touching about the warmth and comfort of family and acceptance.
Sam and Anaïs were born on November 19th, 1987, in Busan, South Korea. Each had a Korean foster mom to take care of them, before their respective adoptive families took over. Sam went to the U.S., and became the final member of a family with two older brothers, while a French couple that couldn’t have children adopted Anaïs and brought her back to France. Decades went by, Sam expressed her extrovert nature by becoming an actress, while Anaïs sharpened her creative talents for the fashion industry. Then, on that fateful day, Sam received Anaïs’ friend request, explaining how she saw Sam in a YouTube video (this one) and couldn’t believe the uncanny resemblance. When Anaïs showed it to her friends, they thought the same, prompting her to do some research that lead to her discovery of their shared birthday in South Korea.
It’s an utterly surreal situation, “it’s like the ‘Parent Trap’,” Sam says at one point, but we can thank our lucky stars that “Twinsters” has more verve and spice than that. When Sam gets word from the adoption agency that her birth mother denies having had twins, “Twinsters” totes up a little is-she-isn’t-she anxiety, but never to any great suspenseful heights (the title alone gives the jig up). No, what makes this documentary burst with life is the interaction between Sam and Anaïs, their messages to each other, their Skype chats, their infectious excitement at discovering one another, and how Futerman and Miyamoto present all this. Together with editor Jeff Consiglio (who received top editing honors at SXSW for his work), “Twinsters” utilizes modern day social media platforms and modes of communication with fun-loving pizzazz. Emoji-filled texts pop around on the screen, animated aspect ratio’s frame Skype chats, and one out-of-the-blue dream sequence is an animated highlight of sweet, sleepy hilarity.
Sam and Anaïs click like gangbusters the moment they start chatting, and it’s impossible not to feel excited right along with them. There are definite lulls in the story, moments where certain questions are answered and a montage or two begs the question “That was awesome, but, now what?” Once the two families meet, however, and a special trip to South Korea takes place, the documentary merely asks that you sit back and enjoy these affectionate familial moments. Even still, there are scenes — like the one in South Korea, where a Korean woman speaks through a French translator to Anaïs, who in turn translates from French to English for Sam — that rise beyond their context. The barriers of language and culture are so easily overcome by family bonds that it makes one contemplate that age-old debate of nurture vs. nature. One missed opportunity, perhaps, is delving a little deeper into Sam’s and Anaïs’ respective childhoods, why the latter was more introverted than the former, and why that trip to South Korea took more of an emotional toll on her. In any case, “Twinsters” is an enjoyable ride, made with vigorous love and creativity, which is more than enough reason to recommend it. Especially to siblings. [B+]
This is a reprint of our review from the 2015 SXSW Film Festival. “Twinsters” opens in New York today, L.A. next Friday, and forty other cities on July 31st.