Three Identical Strangers

Directed by Tim Wardle

2018, PG-13, 96 minutes, documentary

One of the most unforgettable documentaries from recent years — “Three Identical Strangers won a special jury award at Sundance Film Festival and appears Oscar-bound — tells the story of identical triplets separated at birth. Their lives are changed forever when they reunite in college. One of their surprised mothers remarked to the New York Times in 1980, around the time of the reunion, “They talk the same, they laugh the same, they hold their cigarettes the same — it’s uncanny.” A media storm ensued, with much discussion about the role of genetics and environment in shaping identity. But the less you know about the stem-winding Tim Wardle-directed film “Three Identical Strangers,” the better. There’s probably never been a better film about twins, let alone adoption and its troubled 20th-century history in this country.

Fame soon consumed these suburban New York boys (Bobby, Eddy and David) with infectious smiles, whose restaurant Triplets in Manhattan’s trendy Soho neighborhood you may recall from the 1980s tabloids. After the mainstream attention faded, questions remained about why the triplets got separated in the first place. The documentary makers appear to have escalated pressure and exposure for everyone involved, especially the adoption agency that separated the boys, which had remained quiet for decades, and another larger institution you’ll recognize, that has recently become embroiled in the controversy.

The movie is a composite of interviews, old footage of the boys, and perhaps overly dramatic re-enactments of key scenes in the boys’ life (no need to embellish this story). “Three Identical Strangers” starts with a joyous reunion, but descends into a much darker, more revelatory place. It may even help augur a new, potentially litigious chapter in the nationwide debate over access to birth certificates and origin information for adoptees. Viewers, with identical siblings, especially, might want to bring tissues.

— Reviewed by Michael Fitzgerald

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