MIFF review: Three Identical Strangers

Two wows take a turn for the ohmygod in Tim Wardle’s stranger than fiction triplets whammy. ZOIKS.

If there were ever a test on Mark Twain’s truth is stranger than fiction assertion, then sheesh Tim Wardle’s mind-boggling documentary Three Identical Strangers is the proof.

In the steamy New York summer of 1980, with Studio 54 and the Limelight pumping, three handsome strangers – Eddy Galland, Bobby Shafran and David Kellman – discovered to their shock and awe that they were, in fact, identical triplets.

A story that thrilled the tabloids and talk show TV hosts, the surprise brothers found themselves transformed into instant celebrities, a viral sensation long before social media. Charismatic charmers, they fell head over heels for teach other, lapping up the playboy lifestyle that  followed, with a neighbouring liquor store delivering to the party pad they shared in Manhattan.

And at first this is the sort of doco that will have you grinning from ear-to-ear with happy tears rolling down your face, as pretty soon they’re running a restaurant cum dance party called, you guessed it, Triplets, that turns over a million a year.

But as joyous as their reunion is, from the very outset their parents were angry. Why would the prestigious adoption agency Louise Wise Services have split these babies without ever alerting their new parents? Explaining the young boys’ distress in their lonely cots, there’s heartache in one much-loved by all three father who is said to have asserted he would have taken all in a heartbeat.

Slowly but surely, the happy aura of this new family dissipates as a dark history of mental ill health and manipulation clouds over the bliss of sharing favourite cigarettes, colours and taste in girls. And then the doco takes a turn for the truly wild.

I won’t say any more, because to do so would be to rob a great deal of the film’s startling, heart-breaking power, but suffice it to say the eternal debate of nature versus nurture gets a rigorous interrogation.

Indeed, the film’s most chilling interviewee, a giggling older woman with a cheery dispensation and a hall full of photos with the Obamas and the Clintons, is the very definition of the banality of evil, sure to provoke some awkward questions in Washington.

It’s telling that Wardle’s work, and that of an investigative journalist, has already prized open some long sealed doors, but the glimpse at the truth revealed are only partial. This crazy story has some way to run yet.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords