Twin Falls Idaho


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Twin Falls Idaho
"The overall effect is not unlike watching a delicate and subtle poem slowly turn into something altogether more clumsy and prosaic."

Tod Browning's classic Freaks (1932) featured them among its titular menagerie, Harry L. Fraser's Chained for Life (1951) exploited them for drab thrills, Frank Hennenlotter's Basket Case (1982) used them as objects of terror, and the Farrelly Brothers' Stuck On You (2003) played on their comic potential - but only Twin Falls Idaho (1999) has treated conjoined (or Siamese) twins with any degree of seriousness.

Penny (newcomer Michele Hicks), an independent-minded if somewhat superficial call girl, heads out on a job to a hotel "full of freaks" on Idaho Avenue; but when she discovers that her client Frances Falls (Michael Polish) is physically as well as emotionally attached to his brother Blake (Mark Polish), her first reaction is to flee in horror.

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Returning later, she realises that Frances is not well and persuades the reserved brothers to let her trusted doctor Miles (Patrick Bauchau) take a look at them. As she spends more time with the Falls and starts seeing them as individuals, she finds herself attracted to the stronger Blake, creating a rift between the brothers that seems destined to end in unhappiness - except that, as Penny puts it, "in time, every sad ending will become happy".

The feature debut of real-life identical, if not conjoined, twins Michael and Mark Polish (who also star), Twin Falls Idaho is about brotherly love (and hate), bizarre erotic triangles, the loneliness that can accompany a close partnership, the difficulty of separation, and deep, deep loss. In other words, it shares its themes with David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers (1988) and Peter Greenaway's A Zed & Two Noughts (1985), even if it is not as disturbing as the former, as downright weird as the latter, or as intelligent as either.

While it looks beautiful, boasts some fine performances (especially from the mesmerising Patrick Bauchau, as well as from the Polish brothers themselves), and has wonderfully poetic dream sequences, it is very much a film of two halves. For it starts promisingly as an eccentric, vaguely Lynchian indie piece (all mannered exchanges in moodily lit settings), but by the end it has become at best little more than a melodrama, and at worst something akin to a public service announcement about the problems and discrimination faced by conjoined twins.

In the Falls' various encounters with two rather different medical practitioners (Bauchau and William Katt), an exploitative showbiz lawyer, (Jon Gries), a clergyman (Garrett Morris), their own mother (Lesley Ann Warren), the general public, and the opposite sex, everyone is too allegorical (and in the case of the clergyman, too 'wacky') to be a real character, apart from Penny. She, however, is just plain underwritten.

The hauntingly exotic lilts that open the musical soundtrack give way in the second half to far more conventional string stings designed, in case you missed it, to signal the weepy bits. Even the film's most evocative symbols (a two dollar bill, a prison-like grille) are brought back - and explained - in the film's later scenes, as though the Polish brothers had suddenly lost their confidence in the interpretative abilities of their viewers.

The overall effect is not unlike watching a delicate and subtle poem slowly turn into something altogether more clumsy and prosaic. In short, it may start with integrity, but things soon fall apart... Still, this is a striking enough debut for the twins who would go on to make Jackpot and Northfork.

Reviewed on: 04 Aug 2006
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Conjoined twins find their world turned upside down by the love of a call girl.
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