Stories We Tell

Sarah Polley's Family


17 May 2013| No Comments on Stories We Tell     by Sean Chavel


Meant to be viewed by those who have followed and admired Canadian actor-writer-director Sarah Polley over the years. Stories We Tell is a candid family documentary that chronicles how Sarah was conceived by an extramarital affair. It might also shed light as to how she came up with the idea and construction of her previous film “Take This Waltz” (2012), about an unhappily married woman pondering to enter extramarital excitement. Sarah’s brother and sisters participate in interviews, along with extended relatives, acquaintances, associates. Much time is spent dissecting and analyzing Sarah’s deceased mom, a free-spirit who didn’t seem cut-out for the restraints of marriage (she had already lost custody of her children from her first marriage). While Dad was a loafer at home, Mom was desperately seeking a wild life away from home.

We see some documentary footage perhaps of Mom Diane, who is torpid with marital domestic duty until she gets involved with live theater where she meets one, two or maybe multiple lovers. Then we realize this isn’t quite documentary footage (at least not all of it), but faux-documentary Super-8 film, dawning on us Sarah is using actor re-enactments: Rebecca Jenkins as Diane, Peter Evans as Dad Michael, and Alex Hatz as lover Harry Gulkin. We then see real footage of Sarah meeting the real Harry of today, and his confessions to say the least startle Sarah. Have you ever stumbled upon shocking information about your mother? Your father?

Along Sarah’s film journey, there are odd and odder revelations for the audience and for herself. The introverted Michael, who never seemed to be the match for the vivacious Diane, dismisses certain sexual practices as “What the French do,” which might have explained his wife’s boredom. This isn’t for laughs. It’s a sad story of an inadequate, frills marriage. It’s also a reveal of numerous sad implications for the brood – Sarah’s siblings confess to failure at long-term relationships. What Sarah didn’t need to do, her film’s major defect, is spend oodles of time analyzing why she was making the film and ponder on the meaning of storytellers’ memory versus actuality. That material is numbing in its redundancy, and might block out the attention span of the less inclined. Sarah’s core story speaks volumes, nonetheless.

108 Minutes. Rated PG-13.


Film Cousins: “Sherman’s March” (1986); “One True Thing” (1998); “51 Birch Street” (2005); “Away From Her” (2007).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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