The Films of the Polish Brothers
Twin Falls Idaho
Jackpot (July 29/02)
Jackpot follows a singer and his manager as they head for Jackpot, Nevada - the site of a big karaoke contest. Not a whole lot happens on the way; the two talk a lot about various things, and every now and then, they'll hit a local karaoke bar. The singer, named Sunny Holiday and played by Jon Gries, has left his dead-end job and hit the road in the hopes of making it big as a performer. How he hooked up with a manager (Garrett Morris' Lester) is never quite explained.
While there's certainly no denying that director Michael Polish has a flair for style, the movie's plotless screenplay (written by Polish and his brother, Mark) generally makes it awfully difficult to connect to any of the central characters. What the film does have going for it, then, are the fantastic performances, with Gries delivering a performance that would be considered a breakthrough were this a more high-profile piece of work (ie it's unfortunately quite doubtful that his subtle and quiet portrayal will be recognized by anyone other than critics). SNL alum Morris is also surprisingly good, playing Sunny's no-nonsense manager. There are a few cameos, including a particularly pointless appearance by ER's Anthony Edwards, but this movie belongs to Gries and Morris. Jackpot's leaden pace ultimately guarantees it'll never be accepted en masse, although the film does seem like the sort that'll eventually garner a cult audience of some kind (particularly among viewers who can relate to Sunny's plight. The Polish brothers are clearly talented; all they need now is a story that's more interesting than this one.
The Astronaut Farmer (February 22/07)
The Astronaut Farmer is a charming, Capraesque fantasy that casts Billy Bob Thornton as Charles Farmer, a small-town rancher who becomes the focus of a worldwide media circus after word gets out on the working rocket ship in his barn. While there's little doubt that screenwriters Mark and Michael Polish (the latter of whom also directs) are going for a sentimental, old-fashioned sort of vibe, the filmmakers effectively subvert the viewer's expectations by throwing in a variety of genuinely unexpected twists and turns - with the end result a flick that's never quite as predictable as its premise might have indicated. The deliberate pace with which the brothers have imbued the film generally serves the material quite well, though there's no denying that the somber midsection could've used a little tightening (things do pick up just in time for a thoroughly rousing finale, however). Thornton's expectedly superb performance certainly goes a long way towards keeping things interesting, something that's equally true of the quirky supporting cast (which includes, among others, Tim Blake Nelson, Jon Gries, and J.K. Simmons). As an inspiring and uplifting piece of work, The Astronaut Farmer undoubtedly succeeds - with the various little touches (ie a surprisingly effective cameo by an A-list star) ensuring that the film remains a cut above thematically-similar fare.