Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC] & Dolby Surround, subtitles: English, Spanish, French, single side-dual layer, 28 chapters, rated R, 110 min., $27.95, street date 1/18/2000.
Directed by Mark & Michael Polish. Starring Michael Polish, Mark Polish, Michele Hicks, Jon Gries, Patrick Bauchau, Garrett Morris.
Meet Francis and Blake Falls, identical twin brothers who share a special bond. They finish each other's sentences, they take care of each other, and they share each other's feelings. They also share one body. Born conjoined at their sides, these "Siamese" twins seclude themselves from a society horrified by their unique appearance. But the brothers' co-existence is threatened when a beautiful young woman (former model Michele Hicks) enters their lives, challenging them to re-examine their physical and emotional co-dependence.
Written by, directed by and starring real-life twins Michael and Mark Polish, Twin Falls Idaho is colored with striking performances by the entire cast, including co-stars Lesley Ann Warren, Patrick Bauchau, Garrett Morris and William Katt. "Eerily effective, richly perverse…Twin Falls Idaho has style, gravity and originality to spare." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times.
Here's what I "learned" from the film Twin Falls Idaho: Siamese twins have it rough! This shocked me. Here I lived life thinking that being literally joined at the hip to someone and existing as a freak of nature for all my days would be a nonstop party, a virtual Studio 54 on three legs! Shows what I know!
Here's another shocking tidbit: apparently society tends to view conjoined twins in a fairly negative way. Strangely, most people find their appearance unsettling and even somewhat disturbing. A fair amount of prejudice confronts these poor souls who can't even take a whiz without difficulty (kinda like my grandpa, but for different reasons, I suppose).
And believe it or not, Siamese twins apparently have some issues that relate to individuality. Who would've guessed? You're stuck to some dude for your entire life and you have trouble forming a personality of your own or being recognized as an individual. I had no idea!
Yes, folks - that's some serious sarcasm I'm laying down, activated by the trite and obvious affair called Twin Falls Idaho. I found myself heavily disappointed by this film. I'd heard some very positive things about it and while I'm not exactly the king of indie cinema, it sounded intriguing.
What I got instead was a TV movie wrapped in art house clothing. Slap a couple of soap opera actors together for the lead roles, pop it onto a Sunday night screening and you're in business. The film wants desperately to be thoughtful and deep, but it's about as complex as a Twinkie and possesses about as much substance.
I frequently flashed back to the 1985 film Mask with Eric Stoltz as a boy with severe facial disfigurement. As with Rocky in that picture, the Falls boys (played by cowriter/director Michael Polish and cowriter Mark Polish) seem remarkably genial and nice. They're not nearly as well socialized as Rocky and appear to prefer Elephant Man-like isolation, but nonetheless they look like rather pleasant young men. Why is it that these freaks of nature always are such nice guys? Shouldn't they be bitter? Hey, I had a nasty zit once when I was 17 and I'm still mad about it!
That cliched characterization may be trite but it's valuable because it's all the character the brothers possess. We learn than they seem to have spent much of their lives as circus performers. How in the world could two people experience all that must accompany that lifestyle and yet seem so unbelievably dull? Three legs, two heads, half of a personality - maybe! "Mildly genial" is about all the persona these two can muster, and I'm afraid that doesn't quite cut it; I can't remember the last time I saw a movie that focussed so intently on such wholly uninteresting characters. At times I felt vaguely bad for these guys but I never cared about them in the slightest.
As such, the Polish brothers don't do much with the roles. Oh, they handle the physical choreography splendidly. They seem terrifically well-integrated with each other and make you buy that they really are joined together. However, the flatness of their acting really mars the film. They're so incredibly drab and dull that they're the cinematic equivalent of Nyquil.
Spunkier but no better is Michele Hicks who plays Penny, the classic "hooker with the heart of gold." Since we're dealing so strongly in cliches, here's one to describe Hicks: she couldn't act her way out of a paper bag. Penny possesses more of a personality than the brothers - that is, she's not a complete void - but she makes no greater an emotional mark on the viewer. Hicks offers virtually all of her lines in this absurd psuedo-Marilyn Monroe breathy whisper. Why? I have no idea. Penny's a weak character and Hicks does nothing to strengthen her.
TFI seems absolutely desperate to impress us with its imagery and its intelligence, but there's nothing there. I knew I was in for a long night right as the film starts: we see Penny stare strangely at a two dollar bill she receives. Ooh! Symbolic! And she then notices a TV that shows A Tale of Two Cities. Ooh! Meaningful! A two dollar bill also figures in a completely ridiculous little analogy late in the film, one that seems more appropriate for Forrest Gump, but we're supposed to take it is deep and wise.
Gimme a break. TFI seems like it's been created by a pretentious English major who's trying to hard to be an artiste. The film never rises above the level of obvious and pandering and this sort of pathetically forced symbolism pervades the picture. The emotional notes it tries to hit - and fails - have been done thousands of times over the years in every form of sappy, sentimental and weepy "chick flick" you can imagine. The film's artsy stylings and its unusual subject focus give it some indie-film credibility, but don't buy it; TFI offers nothing you can't see regularly on the Lifetime channel.
Twin Falls Idaho appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While TFI doesn't offer the best picture I've seen, it's up there - this film looks absolutely wonderful.
Sharpness seems consistently crisp and detailed with not the slightest hint of moire effects or any negative repercussions from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 television. The print itself appeared clean; I noticed a small amount of speckling but saw no grain or other flaws.
Colors aren't a strength of this DVD but that's due to the almost monochromatic production design; warm or bright hues appear at times, but not frequently. Nonetheless, when they do show - such as during a club scene or in outdoor segments - they look accurate and well-saturated. Black levels seem absolutely superb - important for such a dark film - and shadow detail appears nicely delineated; despite the somber atmosphere, I never had any trouble discerning visual nuances. The minor speckling almost made me reduce my grade to an "A-" but I decided that small flaw didn't detract enough from an otherwise superb image to warrant the reduction.
While it's a fairly subdued and unambitious mix, I was pleased with the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. As one would expect, it's a dialogue-heavy track, and speech is reproduced flawlessly; it always sounded natural and warm with no intelligibility problems. The score mainly consists of rather atmospheric and soft music, with some occasional excursions into louder fare (mainly during the club scene); the music seemed very clean and smooth and really possessed some deep bass during the club shots.
Effects are the mildest part of the mix but they appeared similarly accurate and realistic. For the most part, they remained firmly in the background and stayed ambient, but they worked; a barking dog elicited a response from my pooch, which I interpret as Oat's seal of approval. When the volume rises, the effects worked equally well, though, as in one scene that features a rather loud rushing train.
The soundstage firmly favors the center because of all the dialogue, but it spreads out nicely to the other channels when necessary. Music fills the front speakers well but didn't often extend to the rears. The gentle effects tended to be in all five channels, though. It's not a killer mix, but it gets the job done for a quiet, introspective movie.
TFI includes a few supplements, the most notable of which is an audio commentary from the Polish brothers. Remember how I said that their acting made their characters seem excessively dull and lifeless? It turns out they weren't acting! These are some low-key, reserved guys, if this commentary represents their true personas, and that lack of energy made listening to the track a fairly tedious affair. Despite my dislike of TFI, I hoped their input would add to my experience and perhaps create some appreciation for it. Unfortunately, their blah dialogue just reinforced my already-existing feelings; nothing they said led me to rethink the conclusions I'd already made. The track picks up somewhat as it continues, but overall it's a pretty lackluster effort that may be enjoyed by the film's biggest fans but probably no one else.
In addition, the DVD features some of the old standbys. We get the usual borderline useless Columbia-Tristar (CTS) talent files; these biographies offer the most minimal information possible. The booklet contains some brief but interesting production notes, and the disc itself provides trailers for The City of Lost Children, Birdy and Splendor; I have no idea why it lacks a preview of TFI itself.
Although CTS have done a nice job with this DVD, Twin Falls Idaho is a film to avoid. Dull, predictable and pretentious, with generally weak acting and no signs of creativity or inspiration, the movie offers little of interest. While the DVD provides excellent picture and good sound plus a couple of supplements, these don't counterbalance the weakness of the film itself.