International Falls is the best kind of drama, whose narrative is built around the nuances of its characters. It holds you rapt with the simplest of exchanges, because the dialogue rings painfully, sometimes hilariously, true. Ward, like a great comedian himself, must have studied people, jotting down notes that were particularly resonant, funny, or biting. “You got a real Steve Guttenberg thing going on,” Dee tells Tim upon meeting him. “Wow, you’re old,” he snaps back. “That’s Canada, right over there,” she says, pointing at an industrial waste site. “Gosh, that’s beautiful,” Tim intones. I loved their rumination on handjobs. Dee: “It’s not rocket science.” Tim: “It is if you think about it.” Dee: “I try not to.”
McGinnis fills the film with so many memorable moments, it’s difficult to pinpoint a specific highlight. Tim’s two contrastive performances at the International Falls’ so-called comedy club, in front of an audience of maybe four couples, consist of witty jokes weighed down by the permeating tone of hopelessness, bound to inspire both giggles and major squirms. Tim and Dee stomping their phones to pieces prove liberating, both for them and the viewer, marking the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I enjoyed the ongoing deliberation in regards to what the term “CFNM” could stand for in porn. And then, of course, there’s the film’s centerpiece: a flawlessly-executed sequence set in the middle of a frozen lake.
“…so many memorable moments, it’s difficult to pinpoint a specific highlight.”
Arguably, most of this wouldn’t work as well as it does if it were not for the strength of the film’s two lead performances. Rob Huebel breaks your heart as the vein, selfish and timid Tim, terrified of authenticity. He has such unforced, genuine chemistry with Rachael Harris, you never for a moment doubt them as a potential couple. Harris is terrific, holding the entire narrative on her shoulders, bringing to mind Laura Linney’s magnificent feat of acting in You Can Count On Me. The rest of the cast verges on caricatures – Fargo was an obvious inspiration and is even referenced – the keyword being verges, McGinnis and Ward ensuring there’s just enough levity, without tipping into farce.
There’s an abundance of motifs seamlessly packed into International Falls. It’s about exorcising demons through comedy and discovering your voice and individuality. It’s about middle age, infidelity, finding a kindred soul, and allowing yourself to be open to new experiences. It’s about giving up versus starting fresh. It’s about how sometimes, you have to make comedy out of tragedy because you don’t have the luxury of time.
Whether gifting each other comedy books that they’ve purchased for 50 cents or joking about tattoos of star constellations on the inside of vaginas, the film’s characters are bound to stick with you for days. They are people you know, people you’ve argued with, people you’ve loved and loathed. Unlike its male protagonist, who seems to remain immune to the town’s charms, you will surely not want to leave International Falls.
"…about exorcising demons through comedy and discovering your voice and individuality."