Two of a Kind
Last Saturday I attended a Mets/Cubs game at Shea Stadium: an uneventful game, for the most part (though I did get to see Sammy Sosa hit a home run). But I’ll never forget that day because after the final out, the Mets opened up the field to let hundreds of children run the bases. And the very first kid out on the diamond was a little boy with one leg, who moved along pretty quickly on his crutches. The handful of fans left in the stands cheered him on mightily, and when he reached home plate, the kid doffed his baseball cap and took a bow. I couldn’t see his face, but I can imagine the huge grin on it. He brought tears to my eyes, not out of any feeling of pity but out of the joy the kid took in doing something ordinary. At that moment, his “normalness” in his own eyes was apparent to all of us watching him.
That same feeling of personal ordinariness is part of what makes Twin Falls Idaho so satisfying.
Blake and Francis Falls (Mark and Michael Polish, pronounced like the nationality) live in a fleabag hotel on Idaho Avenue in a small, unnamed city. As a birthday present for his twin, Blake arranges for a prostitute to visit his brother, Francis. When Penny (Michele Hicks) — sullen and solitary, her darkly madeup eyes only emphasizing her remoteness — turns up, Francis is shy, peeking out from behind the bathroom door. When he finally ventures out, we learn the reason for his reticence: Blake and Francis are not merely brothers, not merely identical twins. They are conjoined at their sides, two young men tottering around on three legs and a cane. They blink patiently at Penny, but behind their serenity they are daring her to accept them.
Written by both Polish brothers — who are identical but not conjoined twins — and directed by Michael, Twin Falls Idaho benefits greatly from its provenance. Identical twins share an intimacy that “singles” cannot guess at — the Polish brothers, as children, spoke their own private language, like many twins — and that intimacy is taken a step further in Blake and Francis. The brothers’ performances as the Fallses are remarkable and unaffectedly sweet. Francis, the weaker of the two, leans his forehead against Blake’s as much for rest as in a desire to retreat from the outside world. Blake tends solicitously to Francis during his frequent illnesses. The brothers communicate with each other in inaudible whispers, as if one mind were divided between two brains and this is how its thoughts travel. They share a quirky, self-deprecating sense of humor.
And yet, Blake and Francis are without question individuals. Blake plays the guitar and sings; Francis likes to draw. Francis complains that Blake falls in love too easily, as he does with Penny — who overcomes her initial shock to befriend the brothers, though Francis is continually leery of her. Blake accuses Francis of merely being jealous.
If the Fallses sound like any other pair of close brothers, that’s the Polish brothers’ point. Blake and Francis are heartbreakingly normal, innocent even, despite spending their childhood years in orphanages and adult years in a sideshow, despite being the recipients of gawks and stares and unimaginably rude questions wherever they go (as Blake confides to Penny, “Most people just wanna know if we share the same dick”). When Penny asks Blake what it’s like to always be with someone else, he tells her it’s all he’s ever known. Just as our own lives, odd as they may be, are all we have, and our own intimacies are subject to jealousy while also serving as a source of strength.
Like the little boy at Shea Stadium, Blake and Francis have a moment when their internal normalcy coincides with the rest of the world: Halloween. They attend a costume party with Penny, where they dance and drink beer, sheltered briefly in the anonymity of their “costume.” It’s a wonderfully moving scene, allowing us a glimpse of these gentle, unassuming brothers in another, more tolerant world.
Though Twin Falls Idaho falters just a tad near the end into a bit of melodrama, for the most part it is free of emotional manipulation, asking us merely to accept Blake and Francis as they are and recognize how they are mostly just like everyone else. Beautifully shot, beautifully scripted, beautifully performed, this is the debut of triple-whammy film talent — writing, directing, and acting — in Michael and Mark Polish.