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updated: 5/16/2013 6:31 AM

Polley digs into family dirt in expertly drawn 'Stories'

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  • Sarah Polley, right, shoots a scene for her new documentary, "Stories We Tell."

    Sarah Polley, right, shoots a scene for her new documentary, "Stories We Tell."

  • Video: "Stories We Tell" trailer


Reel Life mini-review: 'Stories We Tell'

Sarah Polley's barrier-busting documentary "Stories We Tell" redefines the narrative experience in ways almost impossible to discern with a single screening. (I've seen it twice so far.) It's a mystery, a romance, a family drama, a comedy, a coming-of-age tale, a family history and a meta-delight to experience.

Plus, Polley explores the actual process of storytelling itself by turning her documentary on the filmmakers: herself and her family, mostly her Canadian father Michael, who not only narrates this movie, we see Polley directing her father on how to reread his own text regarding his wife's possible infidelity.

Ostensibly, "Stories We Tell" is Polley's attempt to understand her good-time party girl mother Diane, who died of cancer when the filmmaker was 11 years old. We learn that Diane was on the way to abort her pregnancy with Sarah when she changed her mind at the last moment. ("Thanks, mom!" Polley says in a voice-over.)

Polley asks some tough questions about her birth, especially since she looks nothing like her dad. Plus, rumors of Diane's affair with a Canadian actor fuel speculation that Polley may not be her daddy's girl.

This is the premise to "Stories We Tell," and Polley digs into the family dirt with Woodward-and-Bernstein-like determination. She drags her family members, friends and potential real dads before the camera to answer tough questions.

But some of these people are really actors. At last month's Chicago Critics Film Festival in Rosemont, Polley revealed that 60 percent of her movie featured reconstructed events with actors; only 40 percent was actual archival material.

So, "Stories We Tell" might be terrible journalism, but as an examination of storytelling and the ethereal nature of human memory, it's an exuberant, intellectually challenging, emotionally moving and utterly original piece of filmmaking and one of the best works of the year.

"Stories We Tell" marks Polley's third feature after her compassionate Alzheimer's drama "Away From Her" and her daring anti-romance "Take This Waltz." She's a director to continue to watch.

"Stories We Tell" opens at the Century Centre Cinema in Chicago. Rated PG-13 for smoking, language and sexual situations. 108 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ★

Stark raving mad?

Hi, Dann: I've got a "Why not earlier?" pet peeve, and it's from "Iron Man 3." OK, so Tony Stark has this stash of -- what? -- 60 or more powerful and personally protective Iron Man suits under his remote control? And he finally uses them only when?

After all sorts of people have died or have been kidnapped, along with plenty of property damage; and only after exposing himself and his buddy to instant death on the final rig scene several times over.

There were plenty of times after the attack on his house -- and how about during that attack? -- when he surely could have used this and routed up the bad guys.

Second, what about the other Avengers? Did they decide not to help out? The danger to the world wasn't acute enough for the others? Not enough death and mayhem? It's only Air Force One and the president under attack. Not good enough?

I realize perhaps there would have been no Iron Man movie if the others had helped out (not this script anyway), but the willingness to suspend belief just hurts the head a little. -- Bruce Steinberg, St. Charles

Dear Bruce: You make good points about the internal logic of superhero movies, or most movies for that matter. By the same token, you could wonder why pursuers in a car chase don't just shoot out the tires of the fleeing auto.

Or why cops never cock their weapons until the bad guys can see them do it. Or why Superman turned back time to save Lois Lane in "Superman" but didn't bother to turn back time to save his beloved father by getting him to a hospital.

Let's just agree that Tony Stark's natural flair for the dramatic made his climactic Iron Man cavalry charge worth all that death and destruction. -- Dann

Reel Life film notes:

• The After Hours Film Society presents the excellent fact-based drama "No," about the 1988 election to determine if Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet will remain as president. Pablo Lorrain takes a smart and insightful look at the political inner workings of the campaigns behind the Yes and No factions.

See "No," starring Gael Garcia Bernal, at 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 20, at the Tivoli Theatre, 5021 Highland Ave., Downers Grove. Go to

• Mount Prospect filmmaker Satya Kharkar's Chicago-shot movie "Coin Toss" plays at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, at the Muvico 18 Theaters in Rosemont. Go to for details.

Kharkar's screwball comedy concerns a nice guy who wins a $350 million lottery prize, then gets beset upon by a hustler and his scheming fiancee. Throw in a childhood sweetheart and a couple of homicidal pensioners and that's pretty much "Coin Toss."

The movie features several cast members from the Northwest suburbs: Curt Renz and Maggie Malone of Arlington Heights, Joe Mastrino of Elmhurst, Shalaka Kulkarni of Schaumburg, Angela Kalamaras of Crystal Lake, and Mount Prospect's Sejal Kharkar, Kalpana Neklikar, Ashley Zych, Diajna Nikic and Angela Niki.

• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!

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