Twin Falls Idaho Disappoints
Siamese Dream Fora while, the quirky independent film Twin Falls Idaho is mesmerizingdespite the fact that not much is going on, and a lot of the movie's power comesfrom the simple image of the two heroes' faces side by side, whispering in consultationwhile wearing chocolate-gray hipster suits. It's a stark, poetic image, andnot just because the heroes, Blake and Francis Falls (Mark and Michael Polish)are twins who are literally joined at the hip and must share three legs betweenthem. The faces of the Polish brothers, identical twin filmmakers who wrotethis story together, are beautiful and spooky in and of themselves. These youngmen have big eyes and high foreheads and narrow Roman noses that jut out, birdlike,from their milky white faces. They might be figures from a Raphael study, alienangels, desiccated opium addicts who were born in a realm of dreamers and somehowgot melted into one person during the transport process. They speak in high,hesitant voices with a faint stammer, and often when one brother is speaking(or, more often, listening) the second brother will size up the first, turninghis head on their shared shoulder rack. Makeup man Gary J. Tunnicliffe'selaborate and extremely painful body harness, which required one brother tofold his leg behind his back so the camera couldn't see it, is sensationallyeffective because it's simple and low-tech, like something Lon Chaney wouldhave invented in the silent era. It's the simplest possible solution to representingan extreme physical condition. The makeup also works because the Falls brothers(and the Polish brothers) have taught themselves to do so much so gracefullydespite their confinement. In one scene, Blake and Francis even play guitartogether, one brother strumming while the other does the fretwork. The Polishbrothers aren't great actors, but in a weird way that doesn't matter. So muchof their power to mesmerize you comes from the shapes of their faces and theirside-by-side juxtaposition-the way one whispers conspiratorially to the otherwhile the other is talking to somebody, and the odd, galumphing way they walkon that shared third leg. The movie's basic conceptis effective as well. It has a fairy tale creep-out quality, like a tale thehuman race has been dreaming for thousands of years but couldn't remember untilnow. It goes like this: Blake and Francis, conjoined at birth, were abandonedby their horrified mother and have more or less raised each other. Now theylive alone in a flophouse, where they are discovered and befriended by a youngprostitute. It turns out that one of the twins-Francis, the more skittish andparanoid one, who appropriately occupies the left side of the shared Falls body-becomesill. Blake has literally been keeping his brother alive. As Francis explainsit, Blake is "the reason why my blood pumps and my heart beats. I'm alive becauseof Blake." Talk about thy brother'skeeper. Even more so than previous twins stories, this one literalizes the idea,and in the abstract the approach works like gangbusters. You figure out earlyon that this story can only go one way: the twins will have to be separatedso that one can live-otherwise both will die. So it's a countdown to dread-thekind of movie David Cronenberg and Brian De Palma do so well when they're thinkingclearly; the kind of movie that wraps you in dreamy horror and tightens itsgrip so carefully that by the end you feel emotionally wrung out. Of course, the film describedabove is a hypothetical one, made by a master in total control of all his storytellingpowers. The Polish brothers aren't master filmmakers, and whatever powers theyhave are often used in irrelevant and counterproductive ways. They seem likethey're mostly diddling around-like they had a great idea but couldn't be botheredto turn it into anything more than a good idea in an attractive package. It'sa fetish object for the Polish brothers. Of course you can understand why they'dwant to make it; all you have to do is look at the guys. But the unansweredquestion is why they thought their own interest was enough to make us care.The film asks for a lot-generosity, critical slack and loads and loads of patience-butit rarely gives anything back. And as emotionally loaded as this concept is,the result is curiously uninvolving. It is visually strikingand then some. Cinematographer M. David Mullen, production designer Warren AlanYoung and costumer Bic Owen have seen a lot of David Lynch movies and a lotof David Byrne videos, and they know the vibe the filmmakers are going for.Superficially, they achieve it. The color scheme could be described as "ravedecay"-lots of ochre, rust, algae green and briny blue-and there are lots ofretro props (like rotary phones and manually operated elevators) that placethe film somewhere a couple of degrees to the left of reality. But the Polish brothers'script is little more than a series of very loosely defined situations-theymeet the prostitute, they go to a party on Halloween because that's the onlynight when they can be seen in public and not get gawked at, they visit theirneurotic mom (Lesley Anne Warren) and so forth. When the dialogue isn't irritatinglyshallow, hip and pointless, like cocktail hour chitchat in a Hollywood hipsterbar, it's so on-the-nose explicit that eye-rolling and forehead-smacking isthe only appropriate response. In one scene, the doctor who examines them (PatrickBachau, Mimi Rogers' Eurotrash swinger boyfriend in The Rapture) handsthe heroine a two-dollar bill and launches into an elaborate metaphor abouthow if you cut the bill in half, "you don't get two single bills...the strengthis in the bond of two." Hearing that, I found myself thinking, "Jesus, we'rein the last act of the film and she's been around them for quite awhile-you'dthink she have figured this out by now." It's like Closed Captioning for dimwits.(The title, once explained, is a clunker as well: The Falls brothers are Twins,and they live on Idaho St. What's that Spinal Tap line about the fineline between clever and stupid?) There are other elementsthat just plain don't work because they're silly, unbelievable or both. There'sa vulgar, fast-talking character who broaches the subject of peddling the brothers'story to tv newsmagazines in such a bonehead-obvious way that it's hard to imagineany living human could trust him; he's like a twelve-year old's idea of a sleazyagent as derived from bad 70s tv. And even allowing for the fantasy contextof Twin Falls Idaho, it seems clear from the costumes, slang, music andattitudes that the story is set in something resembling the modern era, so Ihad a hard time swallowing the notion that a couple of conjoined brothers ashandsome as Blake and Francis would be able to live lives of near-total seclusion.The script tries to do an end run around this problem late in the movie, showingus that the brothers grew up in a traveling freak show. But since when are therefreak shows, and why would two brothers as handsome, shy and sensitive as Blakeand Francis want to join up? And why wouldn't the media seek them out anyway?Everybody in the Elephant Man's geographic area knew who he was, and he livedin Victorian England, before telephones or mass communication of any kind. Thegynecologist twins in Cronenberg's Dead Ringers were quite famous (naturallythe Polish brothers lift a few ideas from it, including the bit where the twinheroes slow-dance with a woman, literalizing the idea that she's coming betweenthem). This is refrigerator logic,I admit, but the key to nipping refrigerator logic in the bud is telling a storyso well that the audience gets swept up and doesn't have the time or the inclinationto overthink things. Twin Falls Idaho is paralyzingly slow in spots,and the ending, though powerful, would have been 10 times as effective if thescript wasn't so meandering and disorganized. It's the kind of film that shouldbe so emotionally overwhelming that by the end you can hardly breathe. It invitesdisappointed sighs instead.
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