Reel Dad: Three Identical Strangers examines the miracle of multiples

As the father of twin sons, I have spent many of the past 31 years pondering the question, “nature or nurture” to consider what has most influenced their lives.

From my first days with Matthew and Garrett, I have found myself captivated by their similarities, fascinated by their differences, and overwhelmed by such a marvelous miracle. And I was intensely curious, frequently wondering, “were they simply born this way or have they experienced different influences?”

Certainly, as they matured into grown men, they have selected different paths. Yet the similarities remain. All these years later, we are still amazed when, at the same moment, halfway around the world from each other, they may each be doing the same thing, or how they will call us at precisely the same moment. How much of this is the coincidence of choice or the inevitability of instinct?

From its first moments, the compelling documentary Three Identical Strangers asks many of these questions. We quickly meet Bobby, a man who, years before, walked onto the campus of Sullivan County College only to discover, with surprise, that people recognized him. It turned out that his look-a-like, Eddy, attended the year before. And that, in fact, they were identical siblings who were separated at birth. Once their discovery was publicized, a third carbon copy appeared, David, as the boys realized they were, in fact, identical triplets, a highly unusual fascination in the world of multiples, and raised by three different sets of parents in very different surroundings.

If Three Identical Strangers ended at this point, we would feel satisfied with the happiest of endings as the brothers become pop celebrities well before the intensity of social media, appearing on various talk shows and creating quite a following that led to their decision to open a restaurant in New York City. But filmmaker Tim Wardle quickly turns an abrupt corner to introduce a dark side to this story. Why were the siblings separated at birth? What is behind the unusual dealings of the adoption agency that processed their births and family assignments? And could this coincidence actually be the introduction to a conspiracy involving secretive studies of human behavior? Within seconds, a story about a marvelous coincidence becomes a journey into a web of secrets, lies and deception.

Still, the humanity of the brothers comes through, in actual, current interviews, historical footage, and comments of family and friends. What emerges is a marvelous tribute to the miracle of multiples with a caution of what may not need to be scientifically investigated. Perhaps some miracles simply need to be appreciated.

In all my years as a father of identical twins, even when they looked so much alike, and continue to sound very similar, I hoped to consistently respect their individual lives and choices. Three Identical Strangers reminds us that, no matter how we may appear to the world, the inner challenges we experience can be more intense when people expect us to act certain ways. And people have many expectations of multiples.

Film Nutritional Value: Three Identical Strangers

Three Identical Strangers is rated PG-13 for “some mature thematic material”. The film runs 1 hour and 36 minutes, and is showing in local theaters. 4 Popcorn Buckets. 

20 Feet from Stardom celebrates musical ambitions

They bring their talents, ambitions and fears to each song they perform, every note they perfect, all the singers they support. No matter what they may dream, they submerge their aspirations for the sake of the star. And they cling to the background as they wonder what the warmth of the spotlight is all about.

Just as Three Identical Strangers gives us front row seats for a revealing look inside the relationship between brothers, this documentary by Morgan Neville explores the lives of women who forsake their identities to support the biggest names in music, from Elton John to David Bowie to Mick Jagger. But this is more than a catalogue of performances of the last 50 years. The film opens up a part of the music business that is easy to overlook. How many times have we listened to a song, or watched a performer, without acknowledging the contributions of these talented singers? And what does it take, in today’s music business, for someone so gifted to move from the background to the front row?

Without artificial sentimentality, Neville initiates a journey to musical truth as he looks beyond the footlights at what drives these women on and off stage. We see, in Darlene Love, a woman so talented in voice and energetic in spirit that her personality reaches beyond the recording booth. As she reflects on the highs and lows of a career, from singing backup on Shelley Fabares’ Johnny Angel to Phil Spector’s Da Doo Ron Ron to her solo hit, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), Love’s journey touches us with her authenticity of hopes, depths of determination and consequences of the choices she makes. And she admits she might become a bigger solo name if she would focus on stardom as the comfort of singing backup makes it easy to defer her dreams.

We get to know, in Lisa Fischer, a performer of such scope and power that she aspires to do more than sing in the background. With her early years devoted to supporting such artists as Melba Moore and Luther Vandross, she perfects her unique rhythm and blues style with her solo track How Can I Ease the Pain for which she wins a Grammy in 1992. But the pressure of a soloist’s career inspires her to return to the backup world as she discovers that, for her, the work matters more than the intensity of the spotlight. The film lovingly explores the details of her day-to-day life as well as the mutual admiration she shares with the ever-talented Jagger as they share the stage for several years.

By focusing on these and other women, without exaggerating the onstage drama, Neville paints a compelling picture of the realities of the music business, the humanity that may surprise, the disappointments that often define. Without apologizing to these women for the professional accomplishments they miss, he celebrates the music they create from choir lofts of churches to recording studios. No matter your musical tastes, you will learn more about what happens behind the scenes to create the songs we savor. Neville reminds us that, in the music business, what spontaneously happens off stage can often be more entertaining than what is carefully rehearsed.

20 Feet from Stardom is rated PG-13 for “some strong language and sexual material.” The film runs 91 minutes and can be streamed online.