A documentary by Tim Wardle. Rated PG
When teen star Patty Duke played improbably identical cousins—one from England and one who’d “only seen the sights a girl can see from Brooklyn Heights”—they at least knew they were related. The main joke of her Show, which ran for three seasons upon the advent of Beatlemania, is just how different twins could be. Three Identical Strangers runs in the opposite direction, and yet somehow ends up in the same place.
Intriguingly well organized by British documentary director Tim Wardle, this new film tackles the exceedingly strange case of triplets separated at birth but raised within 100 miles of each other, in New York state. That state of mind is underlined by their resemblance to the young Billy Joel, as they discovered when the three bushy-haired, round-faced suburbanites found each other in 1980, almost by accident, after 19 years apart.
Eddy Galland, David Kellman, and Bobby Shafran were all raised by Jewish families of different social standing—a factor that came into play later in their lives, and later in the doc, which takes darker, ever more unexpected turns as it covers its increasingly complex 90 minutes. Initially, the reunited siblings, their families, and media mavens of all kinds were delighted by their beyond-coincidental similarities. Their tastes in cars, music, clothes, cigarettes, and girlfriends were as alike as the colour of their eyes. Eventually, they cashed in on their notoriety by opening a triplet-themed restaurant in the coked-up Manhattan of the Studio 54 era. You can imagine how well that went.
Let’s just say that the siblings and their adopted clans and lifelong friends—many of whom address Wardle’s camera frankly, and at length—didn’t find the reunion entirely joyful. One of the most interesting talkers here is Lawrence Wright, whose 1995 New Yorker piece on separated twins, “Double Mystery” (later spun into several books), was the first to examine a New York City adoption agency that placed a curious number of curiously separated twins into curiously diverse households. It gets curiouser.
Let’s not give away more about what happened, but the movie definitely delves into particularly Euro-American notions of class, genetics, and scientific study—or “some Nazi shit”, as one of the triplets succinctly puts it. Strangers gradually pulls you down this discomfiting rabbit hole, and for once even the obligatory re-creations make sense. The director’s habit of repeating footage shows him getting carried away. Of course, you could lose your mind—when brothers are three of a kind.