The Shocking Doc Three Identical Strangers Is Vexing Yet Undeniably Fascinating

Reviewed by Kristy Puchko

Their spectacular story scored them a slew of newspaper headlines. Their charming chemistry made them coveted guests on the talk show circuit, the toast of New York’s nightclub scene, and quirky celebrity cameos in Desperately Seeking Susan who were handpicked by Madonna herself. They were three strapping young men, with broad smiles, meaty hands, curly hair, and the same damn face. Robert “Bobby” Shafran, David Kellman, and Eddy Galland were triplets separated at birth, adopted into three different families, and 19 years later reunited by chance. Their reunion was a warm and wonderful story that captured the public’s curiosity and hearts. But what happened next was dark and disturbing, and is revealed in the fascinating and frustrating documentary Three Identical Strangers.

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The reunited triplets in Desperately Seeking Susan

Directed by Tim Wardle, this intriguing doc begins at a community college in the Catskills in 1980. Riding along in a beat-up Volvo he lovingly referred to as “the old bitch,” 19-year-old Bobby was cruising onto the campus for the first time. Any nerves he had about making friends transformed to relief and then confusion as the other students greeted him warmly, with hellos, hugs, and even kisses. Weirdly, some called him Eddy, many acted like they knew him. Then one stunned student asked if he was adopted, adding he knew Bobby’s “double.” From there, Bobby raced to Long Island to meet his long-lost brother Eddy. Once their astounding story hit the news, David would look at a paper and see two strangers wearing his face. Imagine learning you not only had a twin you didn’t know existed, but triplets! Three Identical Strangers allows us into the visceral rush of adrenaline and joy of this incredible discovery.

The first act features jaunty re-enactments with some iffy wigs to paint the scene. Here’s Bobby’s car riding up a remote road. Bobby rushing to a phone booth with a friend of Eddy’s, eager for an explanation. Later, the film leans more on family photos, home movies, and archival clips from a variety of television interviews with the likes of Phil Donahue. But what really makes this stranger-than-fiction tale come alive is the undeniable verve of the people who lived it. We begin with an interview of Bobby, a man with a smile that promises you mischief and one hell of a story. Nearly 40 years later, he spins the tale of that life-changing day with a contagious enthusiasm. Soon after, David enters, matching his brother in a breezy affability, smirking humor, and playful swagger. It’s easy to see how the world fell for a triple-dose of these sexy Jewish studs, who gamely played to our fascination. But as you get caught up in the whirlwind of how they met, fell in fraternal bliss, and became famous, there’s an absence that yawns bigger and bigger, foretelling disaster. Where is Eddy?

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Bobby, David and Eddy

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RIOT MATERIAL is LA’s premier literary-cultural magazine with an eye on art, word, and forward-aiming thought. Check out our gallery on IG: @ riotmaterial.

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