The story of a not-so-average American family
Everyone thinks their family is messed up, but one look at the Farleys tells you that you're probably doing just fine. Mark and Claire are twins, whose parents are divorced. That's normal enough. But they are also both gay. A bit more unusual, but still not that bizarre. Oh, and Claire used to be Alex. And their mom sleeps with a woman. And Dad's not exactly straight-laced either. It's certainly not "Leave it to Beaver" in this little corner of Montana. Yes, Montana.
The story of Mark and Claire has plenty of twists and turns, which are explored via their own comments, home-video footage and some observations of their current twentysomething lives. Interviewed separately and together, and documented together and apart, the concepts of the individuality of twins, the importance of gender identity and human sexuality all are up for discussion, and some very enlightening thoughts and opinions are shared, especially regarding what it is like to be a twin with a sibling who doesn't want to be a twin. Though the whole transgendered idea is obviously the focal point of the film, this exploration into what being a twin means is actually more interesting, mostly due to seeing how it affected Mark.
Mark and Claire's lives are two of the most disturbing I've ever heard of, as it's a non-stop barrage of pain and suffering, both at school and at home. And their parents, who are both winners, are too self-absorbed to even notice their problems. As anyone who's ever heard a stripper or porn star talk about their upbringing can guess, the path this puts them on is not a positive one. If the film has a villain, it's here in the Farley home.
Whenever you tell a story about the fringes of society, you run the risk of the physical oddness overpowering the tale you're attempting to tell. Fortunately for this film, you can't really tell that Claire wasn't born a woman, that is, until she opens her mouth, and then you're left with little doubt. Her "normal" appearance works for the film, in a way that humanizes the idea of being transgendered, instead of tying it into those who look like bad drag queens. The way the film utilizes old footage of the twins to bring the audience into the family home and make them familiar, is also a big plus for the movie.
Though the story of Mark and Claire is stylishly told and fascinating (as well as depressing,) it's mostly a story that's already unfolded, robbing the film of some of the immediacy that marks the best documentaries. Claire is still deciding whether to go all the way with her transformation, giving the film a bit of current conflict, along with its most striking visual: a close-up of a surgically created vagina, which belongs to an old classmate and new confidante. Outside of that, some minor personal conflicts exist for the family, but nothing as interesting as their shared past. The story remains interesting, but not in a "What happens next?" way, but a "How did we get here?" way.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is crisp and clear, making sure the dialogue is solid and the music sounds right. The sound design of the documentary feels pretty simple, like most films from the genre, but even without any dynamic mixing, the film sounds good.
Some interviews with the filmmakers, conducted by Mark and Claire, and an update with the twins, serve as something of a stand-in for a proper commentary, checking in at just over 22 minutes. It provides a nice bit of insight into the movie and the subjects, and allows them to straighten out a couple of confusing points.
The disc finishes up with some trailers and an internet link that's available when you put the DVD in your computer.
The Bottom Line