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TWIN FALLS IDAHO (director/writer: Michael Polish; screenwriter: Mark Polish; cinematographer: M. David Mullen; editor: Leo Trombetta; cast: Penny (Michele Hicks, former model) Michael Polish (Francis Falls), Mark Polish (Blake Falls), Lesley Ann Warren (Francine Falls), Patrick Bauchau (Miles, doctor), Jon Gries (Jay, lawyer), Garrett Morris (Jesus), William Katt (surgeon), Holly Woodlawn (Flamboyant at Party), Ant (Trey); Runtime: 110; Sony Pictures Classics; 1999)
“The film got caught up too much in the tragedy of the twin’s life without coming up with much more than heavy symbolism for its answers.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Michael Polish’s Twin Falls Idaho tells the story of conjoined twins, Blake (Mark Polish) and Francis Falls (Michael Polish), whose lugubrious lives are a result of their inexplicable abnormal birth. Their situation leaves them bonded by the hip and forced to exist together, with the stronger Blake keeping the dying Francis alive by having his heart do most of the work for both. They chose not to get surgery, saying that they came into this world together and will leave together.

They come to an unnamed Idaho city, from their circus home, in search of their mother (Lesley Ann Warren) who abandoned them at birth. They want to see her before they die and they realize that Francis is fading fast, so if they don’t see her now they probably never will.

As a birthday gift for their 25th year, Blake calls a prostitute for Francis. She comes up to their flea-bag hotel room and after initially being repulsed by them as freaks, returns to get to know them and to help the sick Francis by getting her doctor-friend (Patrick Bauchau as Miles) to treat the reluctant patient.

The film is packed with tension emanating from the choreographed looks given off from the brothers, that is filled with their history of fear from their insulation from the world around them. It is through the eyes of Penny (Michele Hicks, a former model), the prostitute who remains with them because she wants to get some good karma after viewing her life as a failure, that we begin to know the boys. Penny, like the audience, gets used to the appearance of the freaks and begins to see them as very gentle and touching human beings and her heart, not her sex, goes out to them. She falls for the more articulate Blake, which causes some jealousy for his brother. This is the first time that the brothers can’t share the same experience. At this point, the story could have gone in a number of directions, there were just so many themes it touched on, but chooses not to sensationalize its tale; instead, it becomes a very sobering tear-jerker. Though there were some moments for levity as when Blake tells Penny: “Maybe I’ll see you when I’m single.” The film, nevertheless, remains too sober for its own good.

For the Siamese twins, what becomes important is not their first taste of sex but of an intimacy shared with an attractive woman. Their physical and emotional constraints become the story line. At a Halloween party that Penny takes them to which she says is their one day to be seen in public as normal, their one day to not be looked upon as freaks–becomes for them their acid test with the real world. But all they see at this party are people who are less mentally stable than they are. The symbolism comes on a bit too heavy as we see a couple dressed as Siamese twins untie the strings that connects their costumes-which is something that the brothers are unable to bring themselves to do realizing it would be the death of Francis. For the brothers, they just prefer to be left to themselves and let their fate be as written.

They have a few more contacts with worldly people, with mixed results. Penny’s sleazy entertainment lawyer friend (Jon Gries) tries to talk them into becoming a freak show for him to promote and make a million bucks, which causes them to temporarily turn against Penny for bringing him around. And then there is Jesus (Garrett Morris), their next door neighbor, who is fully into the Jesus trip and brings the two to the hospital even though they didn’t want to go. The symbolism here is that even if religion means well, it still does the wrong thing. Jesus should not have been so consumed with himself to think he was God and respected the twin’s wishes. It is only Penny’s worldly doctor-friend, Miles, who understands what they want and lets it go at that.

The Polish twin brothers might be very close in character to the parts they play, so it is not surprising that they are very effective and convincing in their peculiar roles. The female part of their ménage à trois was played energetically by Michele Hicks, who is in a somewhat incredulous role. The whore with a heart of gold is already a staple of film lore and she brings nothing new to the table with this performance. Her acting contrasted between being particularly touching to being strident. The other characters were underdeveloped and the mother had too small a part to have an impact on the film. Why the mother just abandoned the kids (aside from being shocked by what she saw) and what happened to the twins growing up, never came out in the telling of the story. When they were youngsters, someone had to take care of them and should have seen to it that they got the operation to prevent them from becoming a freak show.

The intensity of the film and its haunting nature worked to its benefit, as it made us see the twins as they are. The film pulled no punches and stuck to the compelling nature of its subject matter. But these same advantages also worked to its detriment. The story was, at times, tiresome and rife with too much territory in which to go for all the problems it came up with. The film couldn’t free itself from all the pain it kept bringing up and kept making the story more muddled. An example of that would be the ending, where Penny encounters the now single Blake and a possible romance is hinted at; but, the story just seems to be warming up as it ends on such an unclear note.

This very original film had too many flaws to be considered as anything more than something interesting. It touches on a mature subject of how one can be lonely while never being alone, and how children grow up deprived without a mother’s love. It should also be commended for the enormous strength it showed in sticking with an unpleasant subject most films do not usually cover. The brothers had something to say; but, perhaps, it was too much for them to say in one film. It is a film that has its heart in the right place, but missed the boat by not telling the sexual story it promised but never delivered.

The film got caught up too much in the tragedy of the twin’s life without coming up with much more than heavy symbolism for its answers (chopsticks broken in half, a two dollar bill as change in a cab, and later on the subject of a lecture by the good doctor telling how if the bill is torn in half it is not worth as much as if it were whole). I found those explanations unneeded.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”