It was 1980 and 19-year-old Bobby Shafran was walking onto his college campus in the Catskills for the very first time.
Weirdly, many people were incredibly friendly to him and one young woman even gave him a kiss. Things started to make sense when a freaked-out guy said that Bobby was a perfect look-alike for a good friend of his named Eddy. When it turned out that both young men were adopted, courtesy of the same agency, it was quickly confirmed that identical twins had been unexpectedly reunited.
The resulting “ain’t life strange” news story soon flushed out a third 19-year-old, David Kellman, who turned the twins into triplets – and launched a media circus ranging from TV appearances on the Mike Douglas Show to cover stories on Time and Good Housekeeping.
Welcome to Three Identical Strangers, an award-winning documentary from Tim Wardle, who spent five years figuring out how to tell a twist-filled and increasingly dark tale that had stymied several earlier directors who tried and failed to find a narrative structure for this jaw-dropping story.
The film starts with contemporary “talking head” conversations with two of the brothers, personable interviewees whose engaging and remarkable tale is supplemented by re-enactments and archival footage.
The first half of Identical is wonderfully engaging: from finding out that all three sweet-as-puppies brothers wrestled in high school, to being told that they all smoke Marlboro cigarettes and have similar taste in women; the deep imprint of their genetic legacy is revealed in humorous ways.
“They were more like clones than brothers,” chuckled one friend. And aside from their own anecdotes, various adoptive parents and wives also contribute appealing recollections. We also see a clip of their cameo with Madonna in the 1985 comedy Desperately Seeking Susan. Human-interest stories just don’t get more compelling.
And we’re now at the point in the review where no more details should be revealed. Suffice it to say that Wardle upshifts to investigative journalist, and Identical segues from cute to creepy with a gobsmacking turn to the dark side that I doubt very few viewers could ever possibly anticipate.
Wardle is a thoughtful man and he ultimately uses the unique story of these three men to explore some profound questions about science and morality that will challenge the audience. Don’t miss this one!
NOTE: Runs at UVic’s Cinecenta through Aug. 4
Directed by Tim Wardle
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