Stories We Tell (2012)

There's an interview in the middle of this documentary that highlights how you can't give equal weight to everyone's point of view when telling a story, or else you'll never get to the bottom of it. Seeing a character pinpoint what's wrong with the narrative choices made by Sarah Polley gives the worst result possible for an otherwise captivating film: you'll take a few steps back and start analyzing its themes before its over. It's definitely worth the watch, I just wished it didn't handhold me so much.


A family tells awkward stories about their mother.

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[do action=”moment” emo=”Creative” title=”Something tells me we’ll be glad she convinced her family to hop in.”/]

We meet director Sarah Polley’s family, portrayed as reluctant narrators who, somehow, were convinced to star in a documentary about their family’s legacy. It’s an odd, yet captivating start. We’re almost as uncomfortable as the sister who keeps saying how she’ll be sweating all the way through.

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Sarah’s dad is given a near-100 page script which he’ll have to read as the main narrator for the documentary. The fact that he seems really annoyed by it makes him really likable. The moment he starts telling stories about his dead wife, though, our affection towards him grows even bigger. He talks about her with such nostalgia, it’ll tie your heart into knots. Especially when he readily admits to not giving his best to the relationship.

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It’s becoming clearer that the movie will gravitate around the mother, Diane Polley. She is the best central character one could hope for, as she seemed like the sweetest gal ever. But just when you thought it would simply be a love letter, it steers in a few unpredictable themes: betrayal, sickness, friendship, abuse, and social conventions. We somehow get completely honest statements from everyone involved, which is a testament to how great the direction has been so far.

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We step in Michael Moore territory as Sarah Polley takes center stage to confront men who were part of her mother’s past. While it never disrespects her mother’s memory, it gets a bit uncomfortable because of her decision to do it in front of the camera. But guess what? She was right! We find out her real father is Harry Gulkin, a Canadian producer who looks like a chubby Einstein. My jaw hit the floor hard on that one.

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There is something very weird going on in the last third of the movie. Just as I thought it was getting deeper and more intimate, we always just scratch the surface of Sarah’s story. What really bothered me is that she chose to turn the cameras back on herself without any intention to share her thoughts on the whole situation. Instead, we start hearing empty statements about how a story is never complete because of how unreliable the narrators truly are. To me, that’s a lazy way out of a deep, emotional story.

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In the last few interviews, we see how loved Diane Polley truly was. Michael, our narrator, admits that he’s glad she found someone to love her as he never could. Harry is happy that he could be selfless enough so that she could keep her family together. It seems everyone manages to see the good sides of this story even though it’s really kind of traumatizing.

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