Easily the Best Film of the Year: STORIES WE TELL Review

Stories are timeless.  Regardless of when they take place, the stories we decide to share with our friends, family, colleagues, or even strangers, live on, even longer than our own lives, as they are what keeps our legacy in existence.  In Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, we see one story, told in several different perspectives, and how it changed many lives in heartbreaking but also fulfilling ways.

Stories We Tell is centralized on the Polley family, specifically Sarah’s mother, who’s bright, innovative, and beautifully expressive.  She’s an individual who lives life in her own terms, moving on from darkness and doing the best she can to make her journey exciting and enjoyable, regardless of her current situation.  The drama surrounding all of this is that Sarah’s father is at question.  The dad she has grown up with and played the father figure has always been Michael, who was married to her mother until her unfortunate death.

As continues to play detective on her own true lineage, she discovers that her real father is someone she completely unexpected, complicating this already complicated story even further.  Sarah’s world is thrown into a whirlwind, making this entire situation life changing.  The realizations that she continues to discover on this path towards the truth affects everyone; her brothers, sisters, her supposed father, her real father, and even friends of the family.

The film in general is heartbreaking, putting the tragedy of the typical American family on full display.  In today’s world, nothing is abnormal with families, and Sarah’s is uncomfortable and unfortunate, but not unfamiliar.  It’s a true reflection of the dramatic turn in regards to the people we love, especially the difficulties and complexities of how life is lived and how that can positively or negatively affect our partners, children, etc.  Polley doesn’t shy away from the conversation, as she presents it with a bright spotlight on a shiny platter.

The struggles for all individuals living in this world is to never disappoint, and love, no matter how powerful it can be, is also the most dangerous feeling we experience.  If you’ve ever witnessed any of Polley’s films, they all surround themselves on the realities of relationships, and how love, no matter how beautiful and graceful it may be, can destroy and demolish your livelihood.  Love doesn’t exuberate peace, but inconsistency and confusion.  Our love for people is shallow 8ucurrent position.  Her films reflect her life experiences, and Stories We Tell is obvious evidence on her personal reflection on the subject matter.

As I try to recommit myself to a review rather than a lecture on family dynamics, I can’t help but express why I love this film.  Similar to Sarah’s situation, my family comes from a difficult background.  Just like the Polley household, the one I grew up in was torn down by pain, suffering, and very unfortunate events.  There’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing your family disappear as a child.  It’s everything you hold dear, and when there’s nothing to hold on to, you find something else to replace it.

I found comfort through film and movies, sports, food (too much maybe), and friends and good company.  That’s all I’ve ever really needed.  But the effects are endless, and what we see in Stories We Tell is the epitome of a family looking for calm through the storm.  In all honesty, it’s almost a miracle how close and open all of them are considering how much they’ve gone through, and most individuals cannot survive the way the Polley family has.  It’s a nod to them and their relationships with each other.

The documentary plays out like a gorgeous play, slowly revealing more about people, their circumstances, and how it can dictate their future.  The set up is so perfect, as Polley grabs our hand and gently leads us without ever overextending her direction or playing it too safe.  It’s a romantic poem about a tragic and somewhat depressing message, and it all works beautifully.  There were moments where I had to fight back tears, as it strung a very emotional and insecure spot in my life, regardless of all the progress I’ve made.  And that’s when a film reaches ultimate success: by stringing memories and feelings within an individual that makes the experience personal and relevant.

Stories We Tell isn’t necessarily about a family drama, but more so about the importance of truth, and the evolution of the relativity and its impact on our souls.  Stories were once a real-life harrowing experience, and though however personal and difficult it may be, memories are everlasting.  Some may refuse to look back into the past, but a documentary like Stories We Tell exempts any excuses, and we are forced to face with our own mystifying past.  What a beautiful accomplishment.

Stories We Tell receives 4 stars (out of 5).

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