Saturday, March 28, 2020

Movie Reviews: International Falls

International Falls
directed by Amber McGinnis
This is an indie film directed by first time director Amber McGinnis. It's based on a two person play but McGinnis transcends those limitations. It doesn't feel like a play at all even though the two leads dominate the screen time. 

It's by far the best movie I've seen in 2020. International Falls carries a message and tells a story with which people are probably very familiar but the director puts her own twist and interpretation on the tale. She mixes drama and absurdity in a way that is realistic and often poignant. 

In the hands of a lesser director or more intrusive studio this film would have found the time to grind various ideological axes or go for grossout humor. McGinnis, thankfully didn't make any concessions to people looking for those things. This is a unsparing and sometime comedic look at how people deal with life when things aren't going their way. The casting of the two leads is spot on. I simply can't imagine any other actors/actresses providing this performance. They are really that good.

The film is occasionally silly but it's not a comedy. This is not a farce, full of slapstick and physical humor. This is not a movie for kids, not because of the adult themes, of which there are plenty, but because this film will appeal most to people who have lived long enough to have regrets and recognize mistakes but aren't too old to change their future.

This film brings to mind the Coen Brothers' Fargo but that would only be because of the surface similarity of each film's depiction of the Swedish/German derived distinctive sing song vowel heavy Upper Midwest accents, specifically those found in Minnesota.

The film finds some humor in those tones; a few actors appear to lay it on quite thick.

Dee (Rachael Harris) is a hotel clerk/manager of a certain age who works in International Falls, Minnesota. She grew up there, went to college close by, married a fellow town native, Gary (Matthew Glave) and had two daughters with Gary. 

The slightly built Dee normally keeps everything bottled up inside, which can make it equally humorous and scary when she loses it and reveals her true thoughts. Dee's strained smiles hide a lot. Dee and Gary aren't on the same page any more.

Gary's unfaithful, though Dee is pretending ignorance. Gary's infidelity and the perceived insult to Dee's attractiveness are not even Dee's primary concerns. Dee has always wanted to be a standup comedian, to the point where her co-workers buy her how-to books on the subject. Dee thinks that life is passing her by more and more quickly. 

So when a tall, divorced, similarly aged comedian named Tim (Rob Huebel) stops into the hotel for a two night engagement, Dee is primed to talk to him, learn from him, be his town tour guide, and offer some special hospitality. There's a problem though. Tim is depressed, self-loathing, burnt out, and HATES, really, really really HATES his chosen career path. 

Tim will tell anyone who'll listen that's he's not very good. Tim thinks most comedians stink. Tim believes wannabee comedians are even worse. Tim's depression, anger, and bitterness seep into his jokes, which indeed are mostly bad. 

Tim displays subtle disdain and later open hostility for the people of International Falls. That is, he shows dislike for everyone except Dee. Tim enjoys Dee's curiosity despite himself. 

Dee likes Tim's honesty. As Dee and Tim interact with one another and drop their guard, each discovers some good and bad things about themselves. They also, willingly or not, teach each other about life as they peel back their protective layers. There's some bleakness, ok, a lot of bleakness, but there is also very real joy, kindness, and growth.

This is an adult movie. Though people occasionally do some bad things, I don't think the film has villains. Dee's description of Gary's ineptness at failing to clear his bizarre PC browser cache and incriminating phone call history is not a "gotcha" moment of female revenge so much as it is a rueful acceptance of a spouse's shortcomings. I think that Gary's actions were just a catalyst to something Dee was already recognizing. 

The movie's soundtrack, composed by Eric Shimelonis, fits the film's scenes so doggone perfectly that I was reminded of Amelie, which did the same thing. Be aware that this film is not as consistently exuberant as Amelie. Not even close. International Falls is not a romantic comedy. The film shifts tones gradually and realistically. Some of Dee's daydreams are very funny. This is a quiet film. Life is bittersweet. So was this film. I loved it. I think anyone who has either considered a new journey in life or taken one might find this film worthwhile.
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