'International Falls' film review: Wry comedy mines melancholic laughs from existential sadness

'International Falls' film review: Wry comedy mines melancholic laughs from existential sadness

The stark, snow-laden Minnesota winter is the perfect backdrop for the dramatic comedy "International Falls" (screening during the 45th Seattle International Film Festival), wherein a pair of depressed people to ruminate about their lives lived in quiet desperation.

In short: Aspiring stand-up comic Dee (Rachael Harris) has a one-night stand with burned-out comedian Tim (Rob Huebel), leading them to confront the harsh truths of failing marriages and dissatisfied aspirations.

A depressed and resigned mood permeates this comedy, that on its surface, is basically a grim meet-cute of two depressed middle-aged adults - fundamentally dissatisfied with their lives - bonding in the commonality of their shared gloom. The isolated, small town is the perfect setting for woman in a stagnating marriage living in the town she grew up in and the struggling road comic wallowing in the mediocrity of a stalled out career in stand-up.

The idea of watching two admittedly mopey adults contemplate their lives sounds like the opposite of fun or entertaining - but not with Harris and Huebel leading the journey. The veteran comedian actors infuse "Falls" with a wry buoyancy that doesn't merely keep the tone from sinking under its own contemplative themes - it's actually leveraged into a dark humor equal parts acutely incisive, bleak and hilarious.

Harris and Huebel's dry, snarky banter allows the characters to dynamically and playfully flirt with each other - and it serves as a great conduit for their raw, introspective of what their lives have become. If anything, their mutual sarcastic edge is clearly a defensive mechanism for deeply-rooted resentments and self-loathing. Their dynamic drives the film forward, pushing Dee and Tim toward candid and unguarded conversations about their hopes, doubts and disappointments. Most indie films mistake having its lead characters just screaming at each other, throwing the unvarnished truth at each other like rocks -- but "Falls" takes a more measured, yet equally sincere, path. Dee and Tim

Dee and Tim are on two opposing ends of the same journey, but "Falls" recognizes that they live in the very same emotional headspace. Watching them pal around the small town is cute and fun, but the film's best moments come from Dee and Tim increasingly and sincerely open up to each other. These two otherwise inert characters bump into one another when they need it most, and "Falls" allows each character to surprisingly and deeply affect each other.

Final verdict: A sincere screenplay and great character dynamics combine for this bittersweet but hilarious examination of two lives half-lived.

Score: 4/5

"International Falls" screens during SIFF 2019. This comedy drama is unrated and has a running time of 96 minutes.

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