The documentary unfolds an endlessly intriguing mystery — a story so strange it's hard to believe it's true. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
“When I tell people my story, they don’t believe it,” says Bobby Shafran, gazing evenly at the camera during the opening moments of Tim Wardle’s mesmerizing documentary, “Three Identical Strangers.” He’s not kidding; a feature-film screenplay of this tale would likely be rejected for being utterly implausible.
Bobby begins the saga by describing his first day at college, nearly 40 years ago: He knew no one on campus, and yet people kept greeting him familiarly. Very quickly, he realized startling news: He had an identical twin brother, named Eddy Galland. After Bobby and Eddy reconnected, stories were written in the media about the happy reunion, and boom — their triplet brother, David Kellman, emerged. Adopted as infants from a New York agency and growing up within 100 miles of each other, the brothers — and their three sets of parents — knew nothing of the others’ existence. Photos taken of the trio around the time of the reunion show a giddy-looking trio of curly-headed, grinning young men, each seemingly a carbon copy of the others, clearly thrilled to be in each other’s company.
At first, “Three Identical Strangers” seems to be telling a happy story of miraculous reconnection. “All of us sat back and watched three separate lives become one,” says David’s aunt, of the brothers’ immediate bond. The trio made the rounds of talk shows, was featured in national magazines, briefly ogled Madonna in the movie “Desperately Seeking Susan” (blink and you’ll miss them) and opened an instantly popular New York restaurant, Triplets, together.
But questions, some very dark, soon arise. Why did the agency not tell the families of their prospective sons’ brothers? What other secrets were hidden, in records the brothers are told they can’t access? Why do we see present-day Bobby and David in the film, but not Eddy? What would it be like to find out, as a young adult, that there are two more of you? What did the brothers lose by not growing up together?
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Despite an unnecessary reliance on blurry re-enactment scenes early in the film, Wardle makes “Three Identical Strangers” as spellbinding as a great psychological thriller. Ultimately, it’s about a trio of lives shaped by forces beyond their control, and about the endlessly intriguing mystery of what makes us who we are.
★★★ “Three Identical Strangers,” a documentary directed by Tim Wardle. 96 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some mature thematic material. Opens July 13 at multiple theaters.