As melodramas go, "Twin Falls Idaho" is pretty conventional, right down to its hooker with a heart of gold, its obstacle-strewn paths to love and a character suffering from an incurable disease.
But "Twin Falls Idaho" has a hook. Its two main characters are conjoined twins, one of whom falls in love with the aforementioned working girl. As a metaphor for intimacy, commitment and the threat of fusion that deep love entails, the trope is an apt one. But "Twin Falls Idaho" still commits the same kind of maudlin sensationalism that it condemns.
Mark and Michael Polish, identical twin brothers who wrote "Twin Falls Idaho," play Blake and Francis Falls, who share an apartment in a seedy hotel in a nameless city (the Idaho in the movie's title refers to their street). Blake and Francis share more than a room, of course. Conjoined side-by-side, they also share a leg, most aspects of their physical health and a secret language, in which they speak in shorthand to each other.
It's a hermetic, symbiotic existence of whispered asides broken only when one or both of them invite an outsider to their private world.
And Penny (Michele Hicks in a debut performance) is just such an outsider, a call girl whom the brothers have invited to their room to celebrate a birthday. When Penny sees just who's calling, she freaks out and bolts.
But when she returns for her address book, she realizes Francis is gravely ill.
Her heart of gold firmly in place, Penny calls a doctor (Patrick Bauchau), and she proceeds to befriend Blake, who confides in her while Francis is sleeping. But as Blake and Penny's relationship deepens, Francis is forced to contemplate giving up his better half.
Michael Polish, who directed "Twin Falls Idaho," clearly looked to the work of filmmakers such as the Coen brothers for his first feature film, which recalls "Barton Fink" in its slightly surreal setting and retro look. And he and his brother deliver the kind of affectless performances that give so many American independent films their portentous air of ennui.
But underneath its daring subject matter and whiff of perversity (the subtextual question is just what sex with Francis and Blake would be like), "Twin Falls Idaho" is surprisingly formulaic. So many scenes seem lifted from a 1950s melodrama, from Blake and Francis' repentent mother (Leslie Ann Warren) to the film's tearjerker of a final scene.
Still, a lame plot -- and a weak performance from Hicks -- don't detract from the deeper inquiry embedded within "Twin Falls Idaho," which raises interesting questions about the nature of lifelong commitment.
What are the implications for privacy when two people are so utterly dependent on one another? Is true love the fusing of two individuals or something separate from both of them? The Polish brothers raise these questions with obvious sincerity and intelligence. If they had to couch them in more old-fashioned schmaltz than cinematic ingenuity, they are still questions well worth raising.
'Twin Falls Idaho'
Starring Mark Polish, Michael Polish, Michele Hicks
Directed by Michael Polish
Released by Sony Pictures Classics
Rated R (language)
Running time: 105 minutes
Sun score: * *
Pub Date: 9/03/99