Joined at the Heart 

A review of 'Twin Falls Idaho'

*Twin Falls Idaho (R)
MGM Pictures

Mixed audience response would be a gross understatement when applied to this funky little sleeper of a movie. The day I saw it, a guy just down the aisle fell asleep about 10 minutes in and snored peacefully for the duration. Two women behind me giggled nervously throughout. And one woman, seated alone in the back, sat dabbing at her eyes with a tissue long after the final credits had rolled.

I found myself fascinated, amused and moved every step of the way.

Identical twin brothers Mark and Michael Polish have taken their childhood fascination with conjoined twins (they first learned of the phenomenon while leafing through a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records), mixed it with a thorough personal knowledge of the dynamics of interdependency and turned it into a sweet, if slightly bizarre, love story.

The Polish brothers, who co-wrote the film (Michael directed it), are Blake and Francis Falls, conjoined twins who have come to the big city in search of their mother (Lesley Ann Warren), who gave them up at birth. Housed in a seedy hotel reminiscent of a David Lynch set, Blake and Francis order up a hooker for their birthday celebration, but their anticipated fun is cut short when Francis falls ill, the apparent victim of too much birthday cake.

Penny (Michele Hicks), the beautiful young girl sent to answer their call, develops a fascination with the twins and eventually falls in love with Blake. When she calls a former client, a physician, to come and help Francis, she discovers what the twins already know -- without Blake, Francis would die; but if Francis died, Blake could live without him.

Penny's presence in the brothers' lives forces them to examine, perhaps for the first time, the possibility of life as separate individuals. But as that possibility grows more real, so too does their knowledge that because of their unique bond, one could never be complete without the other.

If all this sounds maudlin, in the hands of the Polish brothers, it is assuredly not. They play Blake and Francis delicately, deliberately choreographing their every move. The twins move gracefully together, complete each other's sentences in quiet voices, whisper in each other's ears. Francis sleeps with Blake's protective arm across his chest, his face nuzzled down on their shared shoulder. Michael and Mark Polish carry all this off with deadpan charm and earnestness, allowing the viewer early on to get over the initial shock of the twins' freakishness and to consider them as unique, almost superhuman beings.

Twin Falls moves excruciatingly slowly at points, and in the last 45 minutes, some themes are repeated a few too many times. But its success can be measured by how long the story and images linger after the viewing. Like a classic fairy tale, this fable grows in the remembering, working on a level of utter simplicity, logic and grace.

Hicks' Penny is a fascinating character in her own right -- at one level, the standard "hooker with a heart of gold," but on another, a little girl growing up, searching for her Prince Charming and finding him in an unlikely package. You know Penny and Blake are soulmates when they unknowingly choose the same answer to a Cosmo love quiz: Passing through a rose garden filled with red and white roses, you pick a bouquet for your beloved. How many red ones do you pick and how many white? Independently, Blake and Penny choose all red, an indicator, says the quiz code, of someone who would give all but want little from a relationship.

Twin Falls benefits from some excellent camera work by M. David Mullen, effective lighting and production design, and a single knock-out special effect -- a prosthetic double-width chest. The sets are crowded, dark and gritty, in direct contrast to the fastidious, almost dashing appearance of Blake and Francis.

Garrett Morris turns in a jazzy, vivacious supporting performance as Jesus, an evangelist who marries couples in his hotel room, just up the hall from the twins. And Warren gives it her tortured, tearful best as the Falls' guilt-ridden mother.

A few good laughs temper the overriding somber tone of the piece, as does the quirky musical soundtrack. Startling, original and lyrical, Twin Falls strides slowly and methodically through strange territory, maintaining a constant level of mystery and beauty throughout.


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