Sarah Polley serves an unapologetic documentary about her mother and the secrets she kept hidden until her early death. Well, documentary is a loose interpretation, but I don’t want to spoil anything. Sarah gathers her siblings, father, relatives, and her mother’s friends to share their Diane Polley stories. At times, the tales conflict. For instance, a relative claims Diane was a very guarded person while a friend reminisces warmly on her openness to all. Part touching tribute, part memoir, this is of course, Sarah’s story too. Her father Michael humorously narrates over various clips shot on Super 8, flipping between glossy modern-day interviews and grainy memories of the past. Her siblings make for a lively bunch, and there’s nary a dull moment or a dry eye throughout the film.
Some stories leave interviewees in stitches, and some others in tears.
It’s a creative and emotional effort, quite a collaborative feat for Sarah to string loose ends together and bring up bittersweet memories from her loved ones. You can leave the theater with a sense of understanding for Diane, never having met her. If you’re familiar with her last film, Take This Waltz, there are small references to the yarn spun in Stories We Tell. Sarah accomplishes a balancing act of keeping upbeat throughout, even when listening to some of the dark lows of her mother’s life.
I don’t wish to spoil much, but I thought the craft of this film was an added bonus, an illusion I wish they never reveal the answer to.
My other regret is once Sarah reclaims the focus of the story for herself, it no longer feels as light or airy as it did when following Diane. Toward the end it seemed reveals were stretched for added, if artificial, affect. And when she begins to question why do this film at all, I wanted to tell her that it was okay to share stories.
That’s what the movies are for.
[Opens Fri 5.17.13. Kendall Square Cinema. 1 Kendall Square, Cambridge. times vary/all ages/$9-$11. @KendallCinema. landmarktheatres.com]
[Opens Fri 5.17.13. Coolidge Corner Theatre. 290 Harvard St., Brookline. times vary/all ages/$9.25. @thecoolidge. coolidge.org]