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The Boston Phoenix A Private Idaho

Twin Falls assumes double duty

By Peter Keough

AUGUST 16, 1999:  The big mystery about conjoined twins, says a doctor who examines the stricken protagonists of Twin Falls Idaho, is why the single egg stops splitting. Maybe the bigger mystery is why the egg splits at all, why beings splinter off to take their individual, isolated paths to loneliness and mortality. That's the question that this eerie, uneven debut film by Mark and Michael Polish (themselves identical twins -- their egg kept splitting) touches on at its most troubling. Why would anyone want to go off on his own, anyway?

In the case of Blake (Mark Polish) and Francis (Michael Polish) Falls, who share one suit, three legs, a variety of vital organs, and who knows what below the waistline, one reason might be to get laid. Holed up in a dingy hotel room on Manhattan's Idaho Avenue (the cutesy title is one of the film's lapses into the gimmicky), they've decided to celebrate their 27th birthday with a cake divided down the middle with different frosting, plus a prostitute. Neither proves a good idea. The cake makes Francis, the weak sister of the pair, sick. The prostitute, Penny (Michele Hicks, doing little with the heart-of-gold cliché in an insipid performance), is at first repulsed by the polite prodigy but then keeps coming back like, well, a bad Penny.

Penny, it seems, needs to "balance her karma," having herself abandoned a defective child. She nurses the two back to health and stays up by their bedside. Blake, whose heart is strong enough for both twins, takes a shine to the sloe-eyed beauty. With Francis asleep on his shoulder, he coos to the departing Penny, "See you when I'm single."

Such might have been the beginnings of a grotesque melodrama worthy of David Lynch, or as Penny's friend Jay (Jon Gries) the "entertainment lawyer" sees it, "the most famous divorce case of all time -- not about who gets the kids, but who gets the kidneys!" But the Lynch film Twin Falls most resembles is The Elephant Man in its dense atmosphere (the inky blue, high-contrast cinematography and subtle synthesizer background are both nightmarish and comforting), subdued pace, and ponderous gravity.

As one character complains, the twins whisper too much to each other -- it might be part of their act, but it's still rude. The movie whispers a lot too, and its somnolent gentleness both ingratiates and annoys. It's nudged along mostly by minor characters, such as Miles (a rumpled, rueful Patrick Bauchau), Penny's doctor and occasional conscience, who's always good for explaining some of the film's more obvious symbolism. Or Jesus (ur-SNLer Garrett Morris), an obvious symbol himself, the preacher neighbor who tries to save them.

Although susurrous and murky, Twin Falls has its share of tense moments and confrontations. Empowered by Halloween, the one night, as Penny points out, in which they can be seen as normal, Blake and Francis go trick-or-treating at the apartment of their long-estranged mom Francine (a listless Lesley Anne Warren). Dressed as a nun (the filmmakers again overplaying their hand), Francine at first does not recognize them and compliments them on their costume. Then, appalled, she realizes the truth and slams the door.

Another door opens as that closes, however. The twins accompany Penny to a Halloween bash, one thing leads to another, and before you know it she's painting Blake's toenails after the doomed Francis has nodded off. Outside of Eyes Wide Shut, it's hard to imagine a less erotic love scene. But then sex isn't the issue here as much as growing up and accepting the rapidly shrinking expectations that entails.

In a sense, Twin Falls is about the longing to return to the womb, a tone poem about the exhilaration and anguish of the long road from uterine oneness to individuation and extinction. Not that Blake and Francis are far removed from the fetal state, wrapped up as they are in each other's biology and waiting, usually supine, for someone to tuck them in or ask whether they're okay. In short, the ideal co-dependent relationship. Or perhaps a metaphor for our universal fate -- a search for wholeness that ends at best with a few missing parts and an illusion of freedom. For a minute before he sleeps and for a minute after he awakes, Blake tells Penny, he knows what it means to be alone. Despite its flaws and heavyhandedness, Twin Falls recaptures those two minutes.

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