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REFLECT AND REFRACT: Quiet strength of a woman shines in ‘International Falls’

Rob Huebel and Rachel Harris pull off stellar performances in ‘International Falls.’ Courtesy photo

“International Falls” is a woman-on-the-edge movie—you know the type (or do you?). Dee (Rachel Harris) works the front desk at a hotel and fantasizes about doing stand-up. Then, she meets Tim (Rob Huebel), a comic on the road who’s super depressed about where it’s led him. He’s doing two nights at her hotel in International Falls, Minnesota.

It’s a small town, and Dee is ordinary and unhappy, trapped in a marriage and kids she said “yes” to way too young. Tim’s a traveling comedian who is deeply sad (duh). Neither of these ideas are new. Yet, in the hands of director Amber McGinnis, they become explosive, revelatory, a shooting-star moment.

Viewers think they’re getting served a romcom, but when digging into this dish, it’s apparent it’s really a survival story.

I think we can all agree our society has dictated that it’s ludicrous for a married woman in her 40s with two daughters, a job and household to secretly dream of being a comedian—and, yeah, this story is framed by the notion of stand-up, but it could really be any big life change. The most impactful thing about it is Dee’s buoyant belief that there’s still time. She doesn’t give some scorched-earth speech about it, either; it’s just always there, shown, not told, in her even, masterful performance. She is resilient, full of hope, and that core, her core, is really what this film is about.

When the movie opens and Dee and Tim meet, their immediate chemistry sets the prickles going. We know she’s unhappy. Her husband’s cheating. This guy’s from out of town. Fresh meat. A comedian. An opportunity. Anyone off the road is hot in a small town. She’s definitely going to his show, and she’s definitely going to flirt with him.

Flirt they do, and the smart thing about this movie is it moves from the basic premise of two middle-aged somebodies having a fling or an affair, and opens up into a totally different story. It’s light and dark, awkward and sexy, and then really grim. Something happens, an ominous opportunity presents itself, and the flare of worry for our players is palpable. Then, just when it seems the moment’s passed and we’re calm and safe, the big reveal hits like a clap of thunder.

Stylistically, “International Falls” looks mostly like real life, shot through with a tiny thread of Coen Brothers and a fleck of David Lynch. The careful, interesting camerawork frames the world in a way that makes it change, reflect and refract. It works wonders for our setting and really allows the actors to own the space.

Dee’s coworker Ruthie (Jessie Sherman) in particular delivers a great, heartfelt, dotty performance, and, no spoilers, but it’s always great to see comedians in cameo.

Costumes are mostly of the pedestrian variety, but there are moments when they sing: Ruthie’s turtleneck and vest combo, Dee’s dumb husband’s tight-assed nerd outfits, and, my favorite, the sweater Dee wears in the opening scene. As she stands before the empty hotel bar and its small stage, with its little microphone, she’s dressed way low-key in a Fair Isle sweater, by no means out of the ordinary in Minnesota. The classic style’s distinct knitting pattern looks like the collar of a jester’s outfit. She wants to be a joker. Though a small detail, it’s absolutely sublime, and in a lot of ways captures the essence of this delicate, detailed film. Each element of “International Falls,” thoughtfully composed, reveals an unseen world that’s happening right in front of us.

So it gets stormy. But nothing goes where viewers expect it will, and Dee rises to the occasion. Her quiet strength— stewing, building, being tested throughout—begins to shine, and it’s so satisfying. This movie is not about another dumb dude but about a woman’s hopes, dreams and jokes.

DETAILS:
International Falls
Friday, November 15, 1:15 p.m.
Thalian Main, 301 Chestnut St.
Saturday, November 16, 7 p.m.
Thalian Ballroom, 301 Chestnut St.
Tickets: $15 •  cucalorus.org/film/international-falls

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