In Twin Cities, we witness a marriage that is about to crumble. The couple, John and Emily, could hardly be more alienated from one another. She’s pregnant and needs time off from her teaching job to work on a novel she’s rewriting. He’s burned out by his job at a technology firm, writing computer code, and has all but resigned.
The middle class malaise engulfing these two upwardly mobile 30-ish folks is a common theme in our culture and has been fodder for film and fiction for decades. But in this story, all is not what it seems to be.
“…just when we start to get a handle on where where this story is going, the filmmaker has some surprises up his sleeve.”
In the midst of the couple’s crisis, John gets some bad news that causes him to reevaluate his life. He decides it’s high time that he get some things off his chest, which leads to an angry conversation with his emotionally distant dad. As somber as the story sounds, John’s knack for gallows humor keeps the mood in the first part of the film from slipping into despair.
But just when we start to get a handle on where where this story is going, the filmmaker has some surprises up his sleeve. John’s relationship with Emily seems to be on the mend, then things take a sudden turn.
What’s behind the plot changes that zig-zag throughout the latter part of the film? The key seems to be Emily, the novelist. Her book is a dystopian tale in which humans are replicated, and all of the electronic media output they’ve created over a lifetime — tweets, email messages, blog posts — are used to reconstruct their psyches in the brain of the replicant. The trouble is, all of that information comes from one person’s subjective point of view, and the replicants lack normal human quirks and flaws — they become an idealized version of the person. All of which sounds suspiciously like a metaphor for the trials and tribulations of fiction writing, or making films.
“…a dystopian tale in which humans are replicated — (their) tweets, email messages, blog posts are used to reconstruct their psyches in the brain of the replicant.”
When her editor, or perhaps it’s her agent, bawls her out for writing a lackluster manuscript, she’s given a six-month deadline to get the story in shape. The film’s radically shifting plot begs the question, is this a straightforward narrative, or is all of it coming from Emily’s imagination? We seem to be seeing things from her point of view as she tinkers with characters, re-assigns their place in the story and molds their personas to fit a retooled storyline. That could explain why a forgettable character is inserted back into the story in a much more significant role.
Here’s another explanation: the story is following a more traditional linear progression, but, we’re not being offered all of the facts and connecting scenes that would help us see the clear progression from beginning to end. Not a bad guess, but it’s dashed when the people in the story drastically change their characteristics, and even morph into entirely new characters.
In Twin Cities, not all of the pieces quite fit — some of the drastic reversals in character and the plot’s sudden left turns seem arbitrary. It’s tricky business creating a Bergman-like character study that probes questions about our consciousness and our very existence. Still, it’s encouraging to see a filmmaker take on such an ambitious storyline. In an age where movie making sometimes seems like a race to the bottom, it’s good to witness something that invites the audience ponder its nuances and meaning. Let’s hope we see more like it.
Twin Cities (2017) Directed by Dave Ash. Written by Dave Ash. Starring Peter Christian Hansen, Gabe Angieri, Stephanie Bright.
7 out of 10