4.5 / 5 stars
Samantha Futerman and Anais Bordier had no business ever knowing each other. One was a budding actress from New York, trying to make her way in LA; the other was raised in France, and studying fashion design in London. Sure, they could have bumped into each other at some point, but that was unlikely. Two young women from different worlds, except for one surprising commonality: their DNA.
If that introduction is even half as compelling and hopeful as Twinsters, I’m doing it justice. This loving documentary, now on Netflix – co-directed by Futerman – is one of the most embraceable separated-at-birth stories ever put to pictures. What’s been the stuff of melodramatic TV shows is mature, radiant and even suspenseful, as two women discover they’re entering adulthood with a companion-in-waiting, a twin that each never new existed.
It’s a story firmly rooted in digital communication and social media, a tale of two sisters that couldn’t have occurred 30 years ago – which gets you wondering about the possibilities of destiny and the idea of being born in the right era.
Samantha and Anais were babies of the late 1980s, born in South Korea, cared for by different orphanage services, and quickly adopted by separate Western families. In Twinsters, their shared story begins in true 21st century fashion, on YouTube.
Friends of Anais came across a popular online video from California that just happened to co-star Samantha. They found the resemblance to their friend so stunning they mentioned it to her. Some formal email conversations between the two ultimately blossom into a long-distance friendship, with Anais and Samantha convinced of their shared lineage.
As a performer, Futerman must have had an excellent sense that something important was brewing from the get-go. After some healthy hesitation to connect (recreated through ridiculously sweet animated text-message conversations), the two girls decide to conduct their first Skype conversation, which Futerman knew well-enough to record. Thank goodness, because sharing the surprise and excitement along with the sisters is the most satisfying aspect of the film.
It doesn’t hurt that their gorgeous faces and bubbly attitudes naturally light up the screen. Futerman and co-director Ryan Miyamoto make the most of the girls’ energy – they know they can be seen as giggly without sacrificing the weight of the story, and we connect with the cuteness. We’ve all awaited an instant message from a special someone, accompanied by that friendly “pop” sound. Well, Samantha and Anais text each other so often they adopt “pop” as their shared sign of affection, mimicking the noise and writing the word on welcome notes. Cute? I mean, c’mon.
But Twinsters has an excellent emotional balance, following the sisters on their journeys to meet one another as well as their foster mothers in Korea. As they delve further into their pasts, it becomes apparent they couldn’t get through it without one another – it’s as if each other’s presence was necessary to understand their own existence. What we get onscreen is a true love story.
As you can imagine, one of the great payoffs in a movie like this is when the relatives meet for the first time. It is with Twinsters, but because the moment is so remarkably unique. Samantha and Anais (with multiple cameras in the room) are in such unexpected shock in seeing one another they can barely move. It feels like a real moment, a human moment, exciting for anyone who’s even wondered if there’s someone out there that looks just like them.
I suppose cynics could call out Futerman for using her story to boost her own career, but I wouldn’t believe it. Our society’s already melting under the heat of a cynic’s glare – I’ll take sweetness, hope and love every time. Twinsters delivers it.