REVIEWS: "Sebastian Cole" Fresh Take on Growing up, "Twin Falls" Stale Tale of Two
by Danny Lorber
"The Adventures of Sebastian Cole"
A 1999 Sundance entry, this teen drama is pretty lightweight, but it's also breezy and a lot more fun than any other similarly themed indie released this year. This debut film from AFI graduate Tod Williams wants to dramatize the emotional and often personally harmful angst that was aroused in intellectually interesting people during the drab and superficial '80s. Williams set his tale in upstate New York, where an arty, pretty boy teenager named Sebastian Cole (newcomer Adrian Grenier) lives under strange circumstances.
Sebastian is the son of a successful, yet sort-of distant big shot NYC architect who divorced Sebastian's British mother when he was a young kid. So the boy's been raised by his mom and her new husband Hank (Clark Gregg), but when, out of the blue, Hank announces that he's prepping for a sex change operation, mom takes son back to England with her. The British frostiness bums out hot mannered Sebastian, so its back to the States to live under transsexual Hank's roof. There's really not much in "Sebastian Cole" to grab onto or discuss, but that's actually what makes it feel so fresh.
This is a movie that substantiates its protagonists' often tiresome "hipper than thou" aura with a unique, cool objectiveness of its own. Sloppily put together as it is, the movie nonetheless is quite successful at conjuring a certain atmosphere in which everyone is so blankly bored that they act out in all the wrong ways -- if only to add a little spice to their existence. At the end, the movie emerges as a fresh take on those awkward months at the end of a smart teenager's high school years when they catch on to the fact that the way they've be raised may not have been the proper, "normal" way. Yet, at least they also know they've been fortunate enough to have been raised at all, and handed odd experiences that will fuel their own creative fire when it's time to do something interesting with their lives.
"Twin Falls Idaho"
A semi-hit at Sundance about incidents in the lives of conjoined twins, "Twin Falls Idaho" certainly explores intriguing topical terrain. It's pretty surprising that the subject hasn't been focused upon in movies before, for it presents us with a fascinating and inconvenient way of life that no doubt is full of profound dramatic situations. As far as I know, writers-stars-identical twin brothers Mark and Michael Polish (Michael also directed) have made the first foray into the subject, and they've come up with a visually intriguing yet woefully sentimental and languid narrative work that offers nothing original other than the physical condition of its protagonists.
Taking place in a generically portrayed, dirt cheap and mammoth urban hotel, the Polish brothers introduce us to the absurdly beautiful cheap hooker Penny (played, of course, by a model - Michelle Hicks) who has been summoned to the strange old building. She enters the mysterious, dark, moody, only in-a-movie room and meets her john - tall, handsome Francis - who is coyly sticking out his head behind the half closed bathroom door. When he appears in full, it's revealed that Francis is a conjoined twin - attached to his brother Blake.
So therein lies the basis for this "Elephant Man"-like foray into how people live with human deformation and how physically "normal" people respond to those with the deformations. In fact, "Twin Falls, Idaho" owes a lot to the above-mentioned David Lynch work, for the whole film contrives for a similar atmospheric and emotional weirdness. Yet if the Polish brothers know where to turn for potent atmospheric inspiration, their film is remarkably weak and unsophisticated in its narrative tract. Here's a film so lacking in nuance that it frequently uses objects as metaphors for its theme of "twos," a-la we see two chopsticks (both are needed if either one is to work) and at one point, in the background, we hear someone on a television commercial say something like "two is better than one."
The film follows a predictable dramatic path, as Penny and one of the twins find that they've fallen in love with each other. That's before sickness enters the plot, leading to an inevitable separation between the twins. The movie is sad in mood and the characters are lacking hope and joy. Because we've never seen them feel anything else, they're a hard trio to fall for or sympathize with. The movie has not a moment of generosity or lightness in its being.
While the film has an emphatic and attractive overall aesthetic, there's really no reason or substance beyond and behind its facade. It's a subject based movie so skill-less in the ways of drawing out its topic that it uses a random hyper-stylized technique (neon lights and strobes) in an attempt to convey art.
Full of obvious set pieces (it takes place around Halloween, which allows the filmmakers to recreate the only night of the year the brothers can appear in public without being deemed freaks) the film totally fails in bringing to light what it must be like to walk through life literally attached to someone else, for the atmosphere displayed here is only exceptional and otherworldly.
Another lauded indie that does nothing to compliment the industry or the art, "Twin Falls Idaho" is tired to its core, not a performance here rings of truth, not an image is validated by the story it represents. And for a movie that strives so hard to deliver a sort of poetic affect, not a line of dialogue hints at any sort of poetry. Alas, a film that expects us to believe that someone who looks like Ms. Hicks would be an after-hours hooker working such squalid terrain is simply not a film to be taken seriously.