In the documentary Stories We Tell, Canadian actress-turned-director Sarah Polley points her camera at the people in her life to get the skinny on her late mother, Diane. Deemed the life of the party by family and friends, Diane died from cancer when Polley was little.
Polley grew up looking so different from her siblings that the possibility of her having a different father became a running gag among the kinfolk. In this film, she actually investigates to see if her mom had someone on the side. There are reasons to be suspicious: Before Polley was born, Diane was vilified in the Canadian press for leaving her husband and kids from her first marriage.
As in her previous two films, Stories We Tell has Polley focusing thematically on a trio of M's: matrimony, monogamy and memories. Her 2007 debut, Away From Her, had the still-radiant Julie Christie giving an Oscar-nominated turn as a woman losing her memory to Alzheimer's, causing her to drift away from her still-loving husband. Her second film, last year's Take This Waltz, seemed a thinly veiled account of what happened to her mom, with unpredictable married gal Michelle Williams contemplating having an affair with another man.
If you haven't heard what Polley discovered, I won't spoil it for you. I will say that as earnestly as Polley goes about her investigation, she still can't resist adding artificial dramatic effects to this already riveting story. Along with throwing in archival Super 8 home movies, she also has staged Super 8 footage with actors hamming it up as her family, which ends up being both redundant and annoying. Eventually, Polley reveals that this is her way of telling her version of her family's history, making this a movie less about her familia and more about the accounts and perspectives people assemble when they recall the past.
And yet, the stories that Polley's charming Canuck clan tell are fairly consistent. Although there are certain parties who would prefer if the focus were only on their story—for their version is what really went down!—there aren't any outside accusations of embellishing or stretching the truth. In fact, this is the most functional tale of dysfunctional-family drama I've ever heard.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Giving up childish things."