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Twin Falls Idaho

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 20 August 1999

Directed and co-written by Michael Polish.

Starring Mark Polish, Michael Polish, 
Michele Hicks, Lesley Ann Warren, 
Patrick Bauchau, Jon Gries, Garrett Morris, 
William Katt, and Holly Woodlawn.

Written by Mark Polish.

Conjoined twins are nothing new to the cinema, particularly those of us familiar with the Hilton Sisters, who died more than 30 years ago after having lived an incredible 60 years together and who appeared in the quintessential 1930s horror film Freaks as well as starring in the 1950 exploitation drama Chained for Life. Some of the off-hand banter (“Maybe I’ll call you when I’m single.”) in the new art house entry Twin Falls Idaho is reminiscent of the earlier Tod Browning fright-fest although the present effort is definitely one that grovels in close relationships and dark, moody textures instead of blood-curdling revenge. As written by Mark Polish and his identical twin Michael, the latter also directing with a steady yet lethargic hand (obviously his left), Blake and Francis Falls (Mark and Michael, right to left as you look at them) create a haunting relationship that is poignant, sensational, and filled with more low-key intensity that you’ll likely see among this year’s Oscar contenders, at least based on 1999 releases to date. Their strongly defined performances power this strangely crafted feature about searching for a birth mother and attempting to find closure as tragedy nears.

Running at 105 minutes, the Polish brothers’ propensity for drawn out dialogue and whispered, shorthanded asides, coupled with a close-in camera baring their intimate lifestyle as it flounders in a dismal, fleabag hotel, makes the film seem longer than it actually is. Fast-food cinema junkies may not appreciate this movie, chock full of duality symbolism and mildly amusing references to Cosmopolitan tests of compatibility, but you will feel uncomfortably satiated at what these twins have accomplished and how believable it all appears. The unseen harness that Mark and Michael must have used to carry off this ruse brings to mind the makeup work of Lon Chaney, Sr., the “Man of a Thousand Faces,” whose masterful silent film characterizations often involved incredible physical hardship.

Extraordinarily photographed in all its bleakness by M. David Mullen, who sketches a Edvard Munch landscape keyed on murky interiors (designed by Warren Alan Young) and drab florescent colors, the film follows the Falls brothers after their arrival in a nondescript town (Kernsville according to their birth certificate) on the eve of their 25th birthday. Penny, a warm-hearted prostitute heavy into dark eyeliner and ordered up by or for Francis as a natal day present, finds release from her own dreary existence by befriending the lonesome and emaciated brothers (cotton candy and chocolate cake obviously not being the cornerstone of a nutritious diet, and stay away from the tap water!). In an effort to balance her karma, she shares what little she has to offer, including the social intimacy of a doctor (The Pretender’s Patrick Bauchau) who diagnoses Francis’ failing heart.

Newcomer Michele Hicks, a former model, makes a notable debut as a semi-worldly yet homeless hooker that sees past the freakish nature of the Siamese twins and creates a most interesting, nearly sexless, ménage à trois, portended by a low angle shot early in the film in which she is framed between the boys’ heads. Harping back to my Freaks riff and that film’s climactic wedding dinner at a table filled with carny folk (“Gooble, gobble. Gooble, gobble. We accept you. We accept you. One of us. One of us.”), Michelle is accepted into the small company of oddfellows and is cast out by some of her normal “friends,” including her pimp girlfriend Sissy (Teresa Hill), Jay (Jon Gries), a slimy, gold-chained entertainment attorney, and Tre (Ant), a hermaphrodite photographer intent on becoming the next Diane Arbus.

Other roles are redemptive in nature, in tune with the film’s “kindness of strangers” motif (excepting Bauchau’s role), including Francine (Lesley Ann Warren), the boys’ reluctant mother who abandoned them in lieu of her inability to deal with their physical limitations and her mental shortcomings, a local surgeon (William Katt), and a lightly comedic Jesus figure (SNL original Garrett Morris), indeed a neighborly savior. As small as their parts are, they all add depth to the Polish brothers claustrophobic world, especially the teary-eyed Warren (also seen in Kevin Williamson’s Teaching Mrs. Tingle), as she covers the sleeping Blake and Francis with their baby blanket.

In the end, Twin Falls Idaho is a small, poignant gem despite its laggardly pacing. Definitely an off-beat, side show attraction, but with three big rings of heart, character, and soul.

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