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(US 1999) Rated R

*** Stars

Michael Polish, Mark Polish, Michelle Hicks, Patrick Bauchau, Lesley Ann Warren, Garrett Morris, William Katt

Directed by Mark Polish
Writing credits: Mark Polish, Michael Polish

Sony Pictures Classics * 110 minutes

TWIN FALLS IDAHO, a surprise hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival, is THIS close to being a perfectly wrought quirky little movie. As it is, it's merely a very interesting, touching, quirky little movie, and an auspicious debut for identical twin writer/director/actors Mark Polish and Michael Polish.

twins2.jpg - 8163 BytesBlake and Francis Falls are conjoined twins who live in a funky hotel on Idaho Street (hence, the title). Blake is the stronger of the two, and it is his heart that keeps the pair alive. He understands, and accepts, his responsibility for caring for Francis. Only in the precious moments when he first wakes up and just before he goes asleep, can Blake feel like a separate individual. The rest of the time, the brothers are a peculiar amalgam of togetherness and separateness. They talk in an eccentric shorthand developed over their 25 years of life together. They dress together in custom-tailored suits and seem to dine exclusively on snack foods.

penny2.jpg - 6415 BytesOn their 25th birthday, they celebrate by silently eating a chocolate cake with two different types of frosting, blowing out two candles one at a time -- one of the few gestures of individualism they make towards themselves and each other. It appears that they have also hired a prostitute, (Penny, portrayed by model Michelle Hicks) for obvious reasons. At first, she is predictably horrified, but when she returns to collect her handbag, she inexplicably drawn to the pair.

singing.jpg - 13972 BytesPenny is perhaps the first person to see the brothers' world from the inside -- to actually listen to him. As a result, they open up to her, perhaps for the first time to an outsider, revealing stories about their show business past and also revealing Blake's musical talents. For the first time, the brothers begin to see possibilities outside the four walls within which they inhabit -- potential for a life as individuals.

Of course, their breakthrough into the outside world inevitably begins with a Halloween party (given by an unctuous Steve Rubell-type who predictably gushes over the amazing quality of the brothers' "costume". Indeed, Halloween is the one night of the year when the brothers can venture outside and feel normal.

Because Francis is ill, and utterly dependent on Blake, he is skeptical about Penny's presence in their lives, but Blake, who dreams of a life in which his sole role is NOT to care for Francis, quips to Penny, "Maybe I'll call you when I'm single."

twins.jpg - 10854 BytesIn lesser hands, TWIN FALLS IDAHO would be a perfectly terrible picture. However, the Polish brothers, identical twins themselves and therefore familiar with the unique dynamic between twins, have meticulously researched the even more unique relationship that exists when such twins are conjoined. As a result, they have crafted a quiet, elegaic, and profoundly sweet characterization of two people with the closest relationship possible between two people. With their long, brooding faces, reminiscent of a young Bruce Springsteen, and quiet modulated voices, they project an almost hypnotic quality. Michelle Hicks, as Penny, looks like a prettier version of Madonna, and seems to gain confidence in her performance as the film progresses, and eventually, we come to believe in her sincerity.

The film is slowly-paced yet strangely riveting. There is no plot to speak of, and yet the film flows along, gradually pulling the viewer into the lives of its strange protagonists. Lit like a Dutch painting, even the brothers' dingy hotel room has a strange, greenish beauty.

Because of the film's flowing pace, the introduction of additional characters is somewhat jarring. Patrick Bauchau, as the doctor who tends to the brothers, fits into the film's quiet themes. Garrett Morris, although he provides a more extroverted comic note than that of the brothers' quiet, wry humor, seems as out of place in this film as the garish jackets he wears.

But it is perhaps the presence of Lesley Anne Warren, as the brothers' estranged mother, who provides the film's only weak note. I have never understood why this particular actress has received the recognition she has, for ever since her television appearance as Cinderella, I have winced every time I've seen her on a screen. When she is on screen, the film descends into a painful mawkishness.

However, this is really just a minor complaint, and is significant only because the rest of the film is so interesting and so strangely compelling. Comparisons with Joel and Ethan Coen, the pioneers of close-brother filmmaking are inevitable. Although the Polish brothers demonstrate a more straightforward style of filmmaking without the cinematic tricks that are the Coen brothers' trademark, they show here an ability to create far more fleshed-out characters, people with whom an audience can become involved. I'm not sure who the audience for TWIN FALLS IDAHO will be, but the Polish brothers show potential here to utilize their unique relationship and complimentary skills as filmmakers to be a formidable team in the future.

TWIN FALLS IDAHO official site

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Review text copyright © 1999 Cozzi fan Tutti except where indicated as copyright of the author. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti is prohibited.

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