Twin Falls Idaho (1999)
Directed by The Polish Brothers
Cast: Michele Hicks, Mark Polish, Michael Polish, Lesley Ann Warren.
1999 105 minutes
Rated: (for profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 12, 1999.
"Twin Falls Idaho," by first-time directors and real-life brothers Michael and Mark Polish, manages to be a film about the potentially "tabloid" topic of siamese twins, but does not exploit this heavy subject matter. Instead, they have made an indie drama that is mature and discerning, about the close bond between siblings, and about the struggle of these two accepting people who have been dealt a certain hand in life, even while struggling to break free as individuals. If the film sometimes is a little too obvious and the dialogue doesn't constantly ring true, it is clear that the Polish Brothers have a definite talent as rising filmmakers, and due to their own closeness, have concocted a picture that is satisfying, solely based on the finely-tuned relationships that they have created between the three pivotal characters.
Penny (Michele Hicks) is a down-on-her-luck young woman who is broke and without any certain idea of where her life is headed. Sometimes prostituting herself for the much-needed cash, Penny winds up one evening at the scummy hotel room of her latest client, Francis (Michael Polish). When Francis enters into the room, however, and she discovers that he is one-half of a pair of siamese twins, Penny flees. After realizing that she left her purse at their place and feeling rather guilty for her unsympathetic behavior before, Penny goes back to the hotel to discover that Francis is actually very ill, and it is his brother, Blake (Mark Polish), who is the much stronger of the two. "How come you don't get sick too?" Penny asks, to which Blake replies, "Because if I got sick, who would take care of Francis?" Penny ultimately begins a close friendship with them, mostly because she detects an emotional closeness due to her own alienation from the world, and a brief romance appears to blossom between her and Blake, only to end with the cold, hard realization that it would never work out. "Maybe I'll call you when I'm single," Blake tells her humorously, but with an unavoidably very serious undercurrent.
"Twin Falls Idaho" is not set, as you may first assume, in Twin Falls, Idaho, but rather it is just one of many symbols that end up being just a little too heavy-handed for their own good. Symbolism is a tricky thing to do successfully, as it should almost always be of the subtle persuasion in which you have to think long and hard about certain things before you would even process that it was, in fact, a symbol. A recent, efficient example of this would be Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut," whose symbols, if you aren't paying close attention, could potentially fly straight over your head. Although not a serious, damaging criticism, "Twin Falls Idaho" is not so refined in this respect. For example, 'Twin' stands for the two brothers being twins, 'Falls' is their last name, and 'Idaho' is the name of the hotel they are staying in. Early on, Penny is oddly given a two dollar bill as change from a taxi driver, and her own name, Penny, symbolizes singularity, which further portrays the conflict between the idea of 'one' and 'two.'
Even if "Twin Falls Idaho" also is stronger in its set-up and first half, as opposed to its predictable, somewhat maudlin conclusion, the film is buoyed over to being recommended, if marginally so, because of the impressive performances and the one-of-a-kind relationship between the brothers, which is just about as believable and heartfelt as any sibling relationship has ever been portrayed on film. It would be too easy to group Blake and Francis as one being, and both are wisely given differing, distinctive personalities, even when they are also presented as being just about as close to one another as two people could possibly be, both physically and spiritually. Blake and Francis believe that being siamese twins is the only way they would prefer life, because that's the only way that they've ever known. At one point, Blake tells Penny, "We came into this world together, and we're leaving it together, too." And yet, Blake can't help but see Penny as his sort of savior, an understanding, virtuous light at the end of the tunnel, whom he starts to love, if only he could be alone with her. In one of the film's most powerful scenes, Blake and Francis trudge out for a night on the town during Halloween, the only day of the year when they blend in with everyone else and are accepted as "normal" people. Ending up at a party that Penny invites them to, they see another two attendants that have dressed up as siamese twins, but sadly witness them untying the strings between one another and going off in their own separate directions. For Blake and Francis, it isn't that easy.
In her film debut, model Michele Hicks is remarkable as Penny, the character with the most noticable arc. Hicks turns Penny into an experienced, hard-edged lost soul who nonetheless is extremely vulnerable to the world around her and unsure of what she wants to do with her life. For the story between the brothers to work, there had to be a third party that could come in and add an emotional center to the film, which Hicks brilliantly does. She is the one we follow most in the film, as we root for her to get out of her job as a hooker and redirect her path, no matter where it may take her.
"Twin Falls Idaho" is flawed in many ways (it also falls victim to a couple particular lines of dialogue that feel completely "written"), but its virtues also cannot be denied. The restrictive, unusual, but fully caring position that Blake and Francis are in is no better identified than between a touching exchange between Blake and Penny. "Do you ever get lonely?" she inquires. His answer: "For two minutes--just two minutes--each day, right after I wake up and right before I fall asleep, I'm alone. It's pretty difficult to ever be lonely."
©1999 by Dustin Putman