- Narrative Feature/Official Selection
- 96 Minutes/2019/USA
- Director: Amber McGinnis
Premise: A woman stuck in a small, snowbound border town has dreams of doing comedy when she meets a washed up, burned out comedian with dreams of doing anything else.
“International Falls”, the debut film from director Amber McGinnis, breathes new life in the “sad comedian” genre thanks to the honesty of its script and the chemistry of its leads. The film is set in the titular Minnesota town, where Tim (Rob Heubel), a travelling stand-up comedian, arrives for a gig at a hotel run by Dee (Rachael Harris), who has her own designs on the stand-up life. Dee hooks up with Tim after his first show, and it’s clear from early on that she’s looking for more than advice on the set-up and punchline structure of jokes. Her marriage is strained (though it’s not immediately clear why), and she latches on to Tim as a kindred spirit. As if being a struggling comedian – whose material honestly isn’t too great- isn’t tough enough, Tim’s also got a divorce and a son he barely sees waiting for him back at home. Over the course of his two-day gig at the hotel, Tim helps Dee to make some difficult decisions that she has been too afraid to make without a little encouragement. It’s here in these long scenes of dialogue that the film really shines.
Screenwriter Thomas Ward took his experiences as a comedian, and it’s his honest perspective of the hardships of that lifestyle that make a potentially flat character feel fully realized. Of course, it also helps that Heubel and Harris – both have filled their resumes with improv comedy, but are surprisingly great dramatic actors – are more than capable of handling the inherent sadness of Tim and Dee. There’s a familiarity between Heubel and Harris that is hard to materialize, but genuinely works to sell the story. These are two broken people that are desperately in need of somebody to express themselves to. Ward and McGinnis also smartly don’t present their story as a whirlwind romance, but rather a way for the characters to find solace in each other that also involves casual sex.
It would be a little disingenuous to call “International Falls” a dramedy just because it revolves around the world of stand-up comedy; there are certainly some funny lines, but the majority of the film centers on these two strangers trying to piece together the damaged aspects of their lives. Dee isn’t just hoping to escape her small town life and make it big in show business. And Tim is realistic enough to know that his big break has already come and gone.
By the end of the film, both characters’ lives have significantly changed from when they met, for better and worse. “International Falls” certainly ends in a dark place, but the final line had me smiling with hope. This film may never get a wide release (it’s been making its rounds on the festival circuit for most of the year), but there’s more heart and honesty here than in a lot of major studio offerings. If you have a chance to see it, I strongly encourage you to do so.