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Director: Sarah Polley 

Writer: Sarah Polley

Stars: Sarah Polley, Michael Polley, Harry Gulkin, Rebecca Jenkins


Release date: May 17th, 2013

Distributors: Mongrel Media, Roadside Attractions

Country: Canada

Running time: 109 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: The catchy soundtrack.

Worst part: The never-ending ending.

The holiday season, though imbued with joy and charm, can become a tiresome chore. Transporting us between realistic and heart-wrenching realms, independent drama darling Sarah Polley has returned home. With family reunions normally regrettable and unintentionally laughable, Polley prevents family members and friends from starting gigantic feuds and running jokes. Here, Polley’s immense talents are applied to her confident and loveable family. Her latest effort, Stories We Tell, paints an emotionally charged portrait of life in the Polley household. With serious Oscar contention in sight, Stories We Tell is a frontrunner for this season’s generous rewards.

Sarah Polley.

This dramatic-documentary delves into several noteworthy and confronting topics. With Polley embracing her directing, writing, and acting chops, the movie is unlike any other released this decade. Despite its relevance, the story necessarily and patiently absorbs its subjects’ enthralling words. Stories We Tell is about Polley’s assortment of charismatic relatives and the documentary filmmaking process itself. Challenging herself throughout each extraneous step, Polley’s motivations specifically rely on honouring her late mother Diane. Having died when Polley was eleven, Diane’s overt generosity and happiness touched many lives. Taking on this immense task, the movie kicks off with its subjects facing up to Polley’s talented production crew and intense questioning. Once the filmmaking boundaries are established, the movie allows each subject to open up about the pros and cons of family values, responsibility, and trust. Providing a memoir-like narration, Polley’s father Richard sits in a recording studio. Waiting to talk into the microphone, Richard deliberates on everything embedded in his consciousness. Providing a poetic foothold, his words soon delve into the infectious tale of Polley’s childhood. Not to be overshadowed, her siblings are given room to breathe. Her brothers, Mark and John, discuss important issues developed during their childhood years. These undead titbits, though simultaneously hilarious and distressing, develop the intriguing narrative.

Michael Polley.

Despite her brothers’ good-natured attitudes, Polley’s likeable sisters, Susy and Joanna, further develop this expansive and mystifying tale. Deliberating on love, divorce, and redemption, the sisters’ testimonies link certain situations to Polley’s life story. In addition, she interviews several people involved with Diane’s acting and singing careers. With familial ties an out-stretched theme this holiday season; Stories We Tell is an ambitious, realistic, and loving portrait of an infectious ensemble. Guided by experience and will power, Polley conscientiously seeks out the truth. No matter the cost to her family’s brick-wall-like structure, she explores every nook and cranny of her subjects’ lives. This honest and dense documentary hurriedly grows a brain and heart. It’s easy to connect to this bunch of charming and surprising subjects. Polley’s career, ranging from star-studded directorial efforts (Take this Waltz) to acclaim-worthy performances (GoSplice), has blossomed into a commendable and impassioned artistic endeavour. Here, Polley tirelessly pushes herself to honour her family’s name. After the comedic and fourth-wall-breaking opening, the movie delves into anecdotes and points of view. Objectively presenting Diane’s friends and relatives, this performative/investigatory documentary highlights the genre’s raw potential. Elaborating on this format’s glowing intricacies, Stories We Tell provides a though examination of art, life, secrets, and the human spirit. Ably presenting each step of her grand methodology, the end profoundly justifies the means. With a close connection to these subjects, Polley’s style lures us into this family’s past, present, and future. Thanks to its empathetic and heartening narrative, the movie’s cracking pace and revelations comfortingly push it along. With each twist and turn, I heard titters, gasps, and cheers from several overly-enthused, surrounding audience members. Despite the disturbances, it inexplicably enhanced the movie’s hard-hitting narrative. With its pleasant tone and messages, it reminded me that life’s smallest intricacies are immensely important to the bigger picture.

“I’m interested in the way we tell stories about our lives.” (Sarah Polley, Stories We Tell).

Rebecca Jenkins as Diane Polley.

Continually sidestepping documentary movie-making’s restrictions, Stories We Tell discusses subjectivity, memory, and humanity’s overwhelming importance. The medium, considered plain and tiresome by some, is pulled apart with Polley’s ingenious directorial nuances. With some pans, zooms, and tilts, the movie hysterically shatters its own immersive effects. With each subject questioning this topic’s worthiness, the movie develops engaging, definitive, and intelligible layers. While peeling back these layers, Polley’s quirky style draws a profoundly sentimental line between her latest work and its commendable Oscar-hungry competition. Thankfully, the movie’s visual touches don’t overshadow the all-important messages. Developing a titanic, tug-of-war struggle between archival footage and elaborate dramatisations, this drama-documentary constantly plays tricks on the unsuspecting audience. With seamless aesthetic ticks, the flashbacks sit comfortably with this tender and enrapturing story. Revealing the movie’s own secrets during the conclusion, Polley’s filmmaking techniques stand up to this extraordinary tale. Handheld cameras, distinct film grains, and period piece settings are key aspects of Polley’s impressive vision. However, despite obvious visual flourishes, this trip down memory lane almost unravels during the final few minutes. The ending, relaying the movie’s seminal themes with incessant monologues and symbols, throws this heartening documentary off balance. Despite this, the interviewees solidify Polley’s ambitious and conquering investigation. Revealing secrets and in-jokes to the world, her relatives laugh with, and at, Polley throughout this unique production. Anecdotes and revelations aside, certain interviewees’ characteristics make for intriguing and unsettling highlights. Sporting beaming smiles, hearty laughs, and kinetic personalities, Polley’s family members are engaging and likeable people.

Flicking through interviewees, anecdotes, and opinions, Stories We Tell provides one of modern cinema’s most dynamic and baffling stories. Polley – holding her family, friends, and colleagues in high regard – injects sensitivity, intelligence, and wit into this tear-jerking adventure. With its engaging visual style, interesting interviewees, and determined direction, this drama-documentary proves that truth really is stranger than fiction.

Verdict: A touching and intelligent documentary.

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