Stories We Tell - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Stories We Tell Reviews

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Super Reviewer
August 3, 2016
Polley surprises us with the brave, unreserved way that she exposes her family's secrets while trying to extract a meaning from her quest, even if she doesn't seem to know exactly how to end it, going a bit longer past what would have been its better conclusion.
June 18, 2016
Pretty entertaining documentary, but I don't know if it really centered around the theme of stories that people tell. Just the lady who slept with more than one man and didn't tell
March 7, 2016
Polley's justification of this film being about memory and story telling, doesn't seem true, as these concepts are barely touched on. Rather what we have is someone trying to control when and how their family story gets out, while honestly she does do well.
½ February 7, 2016
Devastating, loving, haunting, and necessary in a way that only a story about "mother" can be. Polley's humor and gravity are on fully display, and this, along with Away from Her, proves her to be a filmmaker of enviable talent.
January 21, 2016
The novelty of the way this story was told was good and interesting, but the story wasn't actually that good. Felt contrived towards the end.
January 1, 2016
Interesting... I guess.
October 27, 2015
An exceedingly intelligent movie that is a lot more than it seems. It flits between the factual implications of the documentary, and the re-enactments and fake home-videos which are replications of past events. For a while, I was annoyed with the use of the actors which muddied the narrative somewhat, then I realised that was the point.

To be honest, the story itself was kind of dull--but the meticulous editing, and hard-hitting interviewing and strong directing from Sarah Polley make this ultimately compelling.
October 6, 2015
Very creative in the myriad of ways to shoot reenactments. Really enjoyed this family searching for the truth.
September 16, 2015
Even the loneliest man who ever lived had a mother and a father. No matter how superfluous he may have been in later life, he was born somewhere and meant something to someone. That's the great truth of humanity. We all come from the same space; we all come from the same reproductive process. We all exit the birth canal. What happens after that is built, not on the great cosmic luck of the draw, but on the lives led by those who surround us. The circumstances that bring us to the moment of our expulsion into the world can remain a mystery held in the stories told by those who come before us.

As Sarah Polley's deeply intimate documentary "Stories We Tell" gets underway, she sits her father Michael down in front of a microphone to narrate his memoirs. Michael Polley is an actor, known on Canadian television for his role on the series "Slings and Arrows" on which Sarah has had cameo role. Michael Polley, through a craggy English accent, speaks eloquently about the mystery of who he was in the decades before his own birth. "It is clear to me that I was always there," he says, "somewhere in my ancestor's DNA just waiting to be born. So, this unique 'I' has always existed, even in the mystery of nothingness."

The mystery of what happened in Sarah's own "nothingness" is the center of "Stories We Tell," in which she films her family members telling the story of how her mother and father formed a relationship that eventually led to the moment that Sarah would enter their lives. Polley is an actress and a director. You may have seen her in films like "Go" and "The Sweet Hereafter." Recently she's turned to directing films like "Away from Her" and "Take this Waltz." This is her third feature, and just the nature of it says a great deal about her as a director and as a person.

In "Stories We Tell" Polley asks her family (in separate interviews) to tell the whole story of her parent's relationship from the beginning. We hear from Sarah's older sisters Joanna and Susy, and her brothers Mark and John and from people who were critical figures in her mother's life. At first her family seems somewhat startled by this question, but as they talk, they reveal more and more. As youngsters, both Michael and Diane (Sarah's mother) were stage actors who fell in love with one another. The relationship quickly began to cool under the imbalance of affection (he loved her more than she loved him.)

We learn a great deal about Diane. She died of cancer in 1990 when Sarah was still a child, and it is Diane's story that makes up most of the narrative. Through stories and old home movies, we meet Diane as a person who was a free-spirit, someone for whom life seemed to be a free-wheeling carnival. She was never fit for a family, a husband, children, a home, school. She wasn't irresponsible, but we come to understand that she just wasn't designed for our definition of a "normal" life.

Midway through the film something is revealed about Diane that won't be revealed here. One of the great things about "Stories We Tell" is that as Sarah's family tells more and more stories about Michael and Diane, more and more layers begin to peel back. We learn things about Diane that even Sarah doesn't seem to know. Then at about the mid-point of the film, it turns into something else. Sarah discovers an entirely new section of her family that she never knew. How she reacts is simply incredible. More on that cannot be revealed without spoilers.

Traditional documentaries lead us to believe that the movie is just going to be a series of talking heads. For the most part we're right, but Polley experiments with narrative structures that give the revelations more emotional punch then we might have expected. The interviews are very intimate and no two are ever the same. Through the stories, Diane becomes a complex individual and the movie cross-cuts to examine Sarah's life and how it has affected her.

By the end, we feel that we've come to know Diane. She was a woman who felt trapped. She didn't see her life tied down to a family, but she became trapped by them. That may sound like a tired cliché but as Polley digs further and further, she unearths truths the break the traditional narrative wide open. Stories told over and over have a way of pulling the diamonds from the rough, of covering the negatives with positives. Polley reveals her mother's positive and negative and allows us to see her as a human being. She was a person who was complex and deep. She was joyful and yet sad. This is the story of the strange bonds of family and the overwhelming ripple effects of the secrets we keep.
½ September 12, 2015
I gotta say that this film is really well made; the direction makes you somehow interested in a story which, frankly, is very ordinary. I am a bit baffled by the truth behind the characters though, were they actors or not? the cast listing at the end suggest that some may have been, or perhaps that was just for the old footage; I'm not really sure.
½ August 22, 2015
I suppose not every question should be answered and not every documentary released to the public....but i am deeply intrigued with Sarah Polley and her intellectual approach to documentary film making...she is a talented story teller who doesn't shy away from controversial and personal material. In the end we can see it is our imperfections which make us Human...and not every family can be the Brady Bunch. 3.5 Stars
August 3, 2015
The film is very original and touching. the description says that its documentary but for the beginning you may doubt is it really or not. The director's compassion and curiosity marks her as both a heartfelt and unforgiving filmmaker.
June 15, 2015
Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell is a rare kind of film that is deeply personal, but also manages to find something universal in a family's secrets. Using a variety of different filming techniques from old documentary standbys like talking heads and archival footage to less conventional ones from the world of fiction, Polley weaves an intricate tale that explores the past, memories and the stories we tell.
May 25, 2015
I was disappointed because I thought this was going to be more My Winnepeg or Rashomon than straight doc but eh. I didn't find any of the narratives to be terribly contradictory at all, just mostly people guessing what they'd suspect to be the truth and then the reveal of the truth. Certainly the movie is disturbing in a way, to find out all of your mother's shortcomings like that must be jarring. The most interesting story was between the father and the 'real' father though- the second being convinced he was part of a romeo juliet-like tale and the first just trying his best and knowing nothing was good enough for her.
½ April 3, 2015
Just as I thought the film was ebbing out into a dire recounting of a relatively unremarkable event, it picked up again. We're left with an at time dispassionately existential and contemplative study of story telling and our lives. Conjures up life through a lens from many angles and analyses the impact actions can have on a coterie of characters. Interesting if not thrilling to watch. One to to engage in when in a thoughtful mood not if looking for something gripping.
½ March 31, 2015
No me siento cómodo calificando este documental. Su razón de ser es bastante sólida, es bella y hasta poética. Dicho esto, me aburrió hasta la inconsciencia y durante toda la película me pregunté qué me importaban los devenires de una familia canadiense. La pieza no es mala, solo aburrida.
½ March 30, 2015
Sarah Polley made this documentary that's ostensibly about her family. She interviews all of the members of her immediate family as well as many friends of the family to construct a picture of her family. The idea is to show how incomplete one's view of the past is and how truth, if it's arrived at at all, only emerges out of the mix of perspectives.

... or at least that's what the film seems to be about. What starts out being about Polley's parents, their relationship and her mother's premature death of cancer in her late 40s turns into something quite different when we learn some rather surprising facts. The movie becomes about a few unexpected things ... how little we may really know about those who are close to us and what secrets we keep.

I love this film. Although it's about Polley's family, it feels grander in scale. It can't help but make you think about your own past and about your family's past ... What do you really know about the lives your parents lead when you weren't there? How much is your view of the past shaped by your own incomplete perspective?
March 17, 2015
Outdamnstanding, Sarah Polley. This movie has so much depth and frankness to it. I don't want to say a lot other than that it's amazing.
½ March 15, 2015
Fascinating study of a family unafraid to look back in order to move forward.
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