In 1980, a New York college student named Bobby Shafran arrived at his dorm, only to be confused for a recently departed student named Eddy Galland. A friend of Galland's put two and two together, and Shafran and Galland discovered that they were twins who had been separated at birth by an adoption agency. Their incredible story made the rounds, and a third New Yorker, David Kellman, soon found himself staring at two doppelgängers in his local newspaper. In fact the three 19-year-olds – adoptees all – were triplets.
The first act of Three Identical Strangers, a documentary about the reunited brothers, tracks the young men through the goofy pseudo-celebrity they enjoyed in the early '80s, with appearances on Donahue, invitations to Studio 54, and so forth. A soundtrack featuring "Walking on Sunshine" underscores the good times with a heavy hand.
If the film ended there, you'd have a cute little short, which is more or less how the triplets' story ended in the public eye decades ago. But every good feature documentary needs a few dramatic twists, and Three Identical Strangers starts cranking them out in its second act – though anyone could predict a dark turn simply from the notable absence of Galland in the film's contemporary interviews.
Three Identical Strangers has been compared to Capturing the Friedmans, but it's not an apt comparison. This film's revelations are nowhere near as disturbing as those in Friedmans, so adjust your expectations. Nevertheless, I couldn't shake the feeling that British director Wardle was hoping to uncover some shocking, Friedmans-level bombshells in the triplets' saga, but with a stubborn lack of conclusive facts at his disposal, he amped up the drama in the material he had. Thus his film's outrage over the real reason the triplets were separated – which I won't divulge here – feels somewhat forced.
The story still fascinates, and Strangers works as a meditation on the timeless nature vs. nurture debate. Growing up separately, did these triplets have more in common than they should have, or less? It's the most intriguing – or anyway, the least frustrating – question that the film leaves us with.