BOSTON — Movies about twins can't be called a major genre, but there's a long tradition of pictures on this multifaceted subject, stretching from little-known curiosities - like the 1935 thriller "Murder by Television," starring Bela Lugosi - through modern-day treatments as different as "The Parent Trap" and "Dead Ringers."
As varied as these movies are, they have something in common: None were actually made by twins who knew this territory from personal experience.
In recent years, however, there's been a growing tendency for siblings to work on films together - the Coen Brothers and the Farrelly Brothers are well-known examples - and twins are also on this bandwagon, led by the Hughes Brothers, the Brothers Quay, and now the Polish Brothers.
The appropriately titled "Twin Falls Idaho" was directed by Michael Polish from a screenplay he wrote with Mark Polish, his identical twin. They also play the main characters: two brothers who, unlike the Polish Brothers themselves, were born with conjoined bodies.
Their names are Blake and Francis Falls, and they've lived as an inseparable couple for every day of their 25-year-old lives. While they have their share of eccentricities - they're quiet, reclusive, and wary of strangers - their relationship with each other is loving and comfortable. But can it last forever? What would happen if unexpected events disrupted the only way of living they've ever known?
These questions arise when an outsider enters the brothers' lives. She's a restless young woman named Penny, and she's drawn to Blake and Francis first by curiosity and then by the emotional neediness she senses in their personalities.
Although she befriends both of them, she and Blake bond together more closely. This poses a romantic challenge for all three, and it's complicated by another hard problem. Blake is very healthy, but there are signs that Francis's life may not be as long as his.
Their future is unclear in many ways, and nobody is certain what the course of action should be.
In some respects, "Twin Falls Idaho" presents an old-fashioned love triangle, using twin-movie twists to dress up the ancient two-guys-and-a-girl formula. The film has a distinctive style, though, with understated images that counteract any possibility of exploitation or sensationalism. Equally impressive is the sincerity of its feelings.
The filmmakers obviously care about their characters - not just the twins, but Penny, too - and by the end of the story most viewers are likely to feel poignantly swept up in its emotional currents.
Blake and Francis are sensitively played by the Polish Brothers, and Michele Hicks is similarly strong as Penny, whose investigation into the past of the Falls family provides another of the movie's important threads.
Lesley Ann Warren and Garrett Morris also make solid impressions in a movie as compelling and unusual as its subject.
*Not rated; contains adult situations including medical and sex-related material.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society