The Part Where the Triplets Discover Each Other Is the Least Weird Part of This Wild Story
Title: Three Identical Strangers
Rating: PG-13 for some mature thematic material
Run Time: 1hr & 36mins
**** (out of ****)
In 1980, Bobby Shafran arrived at the Sullivan County Community College in Upstate New York. He was greeted, to his surprise, with great enthusiasm by people he didn’t recognize, kissed by young women he’d never met. “David,” they called him, but he didn’t know any David. His prospective roommate, though, did know a David, and it was a young man who could be Bobby’s twin brother. Indeed, David Gellman was Shafran’s twin brother, and their reunion, which drew the attention of the local newspaper, alerted another young man to a startling truth: Eddy Galland was also identical to them.
This was a well-publicized story that year, across various publications and even on national television. Their mannerisms, personalities, and tastes in women were as identical as their features. In a manner that is far stranger than fiction, though, the documentary Three Identical Strangers recounts a tale in which this detail – the serendipitous reunion of identical triplets – is its least weird development. Indeed, in ways that are difficult to spoil for an audience unaware of what they’re getting themselves into, the reunion is only the beginning. Director Tim Wardle’s film is a significant achievement in the build-up and follow-through of near-suffocating suspense.
There is as much tragedy at the center of the stories of Shafran, Kellman, and Galland as there is genuinely head-scratching similarity. Indeed, those similarities (of which the fact that all three boys wrestled in high school is but one) only end at the economics behind their upbringings. Shafran was raised in a wealthy, well-to-do family, Galland in a more traditional and modest one, and Kellman in a lower-class neighborhood. Shafran’s parents were a doctor and a lawyer. Galland’s father was a strict disciplinarian. Kellman’s father was the bright bulb of any given room and a fiercely loyal worker. Each boy was adopted into this family, each brother had an adoptive older sister, and each went on to marry a woman who, in an amusing montage, maintains that their identical triplet is the handsomest.
The meat of the story begins with the parents’ interrogation and investigation into why they were never told about each respective brothers’ siblings at birth. This is where, unfortunately, any in-depth discussion must stop, for the answers are simultaneously shocking and infuriating, cutting deep to the dark side of the medical field and its enablers. Twists follow sharp left turns, which in turn followed other twists, and Wardle juggles these with a deft hand and a keen eye for misdirection. Indeed, the initial misdirection of leading us to believe it is one kind of story when it’s entirely another is eventually followed by three other such moments of fundamental misdirection. Nothing is as it seems in Three Identical Strangers, a wild roller coaster of the emotions and a diamond-hardened experiment in how long it can make its audience members hold their collective breath.
(Review by Joel Copling)
(Review by Chase Lee)