Hot Take: The best documentary of the year so far… in a year filled with great documentaries.
It’s nearly impossible to talk about Three Identical Strangers without mentioning spoilers. Granted, you typically don’t sweat spoilers when discussing documentaries but, in this case, it’s worth avoiding them. There’s plenty of knowledge dropped in the trailer to whet the appetite as it is. The story of three strangers who meet in their teenage years only to find out that they were brothers separated at birth and sent to three different families is enough of a story to create interest. But Three Identical Strangers is like the infomercial of documentaries with a constant vibe of “BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!!!” The truth is stranger than fiction tale is engrossing and heart wrenching… it’s even maddening at times. Filmmaker Tim Wardle takes particular care of the film’s subjects and delivers a compelling and remarkable narrative that digs deep into the story’s underbelly. You might end up with your jaw hanging to the floor at times as this documentary finds ways to surprise you when you think you can’t be surprised any more.
Three Identical Strangers follows Eddy, David and Bobby, three brothers who didn’t know each other existed. Separated at birth, two of the brothers coincidentally cross paths when Bobby heads off to college for the first time but quickly finds out something is odd. The entire campus seems to already know him and finally, when someone tells him he might have a twin brother, he’s put on the phone with Eddy. He shares a birthday with Eddy. He was adopted from the same agency. Once the pair meet, they instantly realize they are somehow brothers. Eventually, the story hits the paper and before you know it, there’s a third brother, David, in the mix. Same birthday, same agency, same thing. The triplets instantly become inseparable and the film follows their journey including some rather astounding twists and turns to a tale that, on the surface, appears amazing but eventually reaches unbelievable.
Without a doubt, 2018 has been an impressive year for documentaries in theaters. Typically, while there’s always a good list of documentaries to see every year, it’s a rare few that get any kind of decent play in theaters. This year, we’ve seen Pope Francis – A Man of His Word (385 theaters), Whitney (451 theaters) and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (893 theaters) all get a decent sized release with Won’t You Be My Neighbor? hitting nearly $20 million at the box office so far. Three Identical Strangers joined that trio of documentaries in a similarly sized release jumping to 433 theaters this week and looking to reach $5 million+ in box office receipts. Surely, with movies like Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther doing that in an opening weekend morning, that’s not overly impressive until you realize how difficult it is for a documentary to find any traction at the box office. It’s a good sign, though, for those struggling with the fact that theaters are overrun with popcorn flicks usually featuring a superhero or two.
As for Three Identical Strangers as a film, it might not have even worked as a “based on a true story” reenactment as some would not have believed the story as it unfolded if it weren’t solely a documentary. It’s a toss up whether Three Identical Strangers is a more engaging documentary than Won’t You Be My Neighbor? but the titillating aspects of Three identical Strangers edges out the emotional gymnastics of the Mister Rogers documentary. I wouldn’t spend much time arguing with you if you disagreed as there’s not much separating the two but it’s easy to recommend both. It’s not necessary to see any of them in theaters other than helping these documentaries find financial success at the box office could help boost the quality and quantity of future documentaries that get put into moderate rotation at the cinema.
Who doesn’t like a true story with more twists than a pretzel factory?
You’re one of those that can’t stomach anything non-fiction at the cinema. (If that’s the case, at least catch it at home once the opportunity arises. It’s worth it.)