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.
Dee is a middle-aged wife and mother stuck in a boring job and a broken marriage in what feels like the frozen edge of the world: International Falls, Minnesota. A self-proclaimed comedy nerd with a secret dream of getting on stage, her only escape comes in the form of no-name touring comics performing weekly in the hotel bar where she works as a front desk clerk. This particular weekend brings Tim, a burned out headliner who is all too aware of his status as a low-level nobody telling the same hack jokes to small town slobbering drunks year after year. He’s come to International Falls with no intention of leaving.
When Dee invites herself to Tim’s room after his first night’s show, her walls begin to crumble as she’s forced to face the realities of a life that she’s become so adept at ignoring: a job she hates in a town she despises, a husband who’s been cheating for years, and a dream she’s never had the guts to pursue. Their one night stand stretches into the next day as each comfortably acknowledge that they’re using the other for momentary comfort. Tim confesses that he’s going through a divorce, has lost custody of his son and is miserable in his chosen profession. He tells Dee that that night’s show will be his last as a comedian, that he’s “sort of retiring,” which turns out to be a sadly ominous prediction.
The line between comedy and tragedy is blurred as Dee is forced to ask the inevitable, unavoidable question that all must face: Now what?
The journey of this film started several years ago when writer Thomas Ward asked me to come on board to direct his recently adapted two-person play, INTERNATIONAL FALLS. Inspired by Ward’s experiences as a touring comedian, I fell in love with the script because it brought something very special to the table: truth and vulnerability. The years of development and rewrites that followed our initial conversation have only deepened that focus as the story has grown to center less around the autobiographical experiences of the writer, and more on Dee as the protagonist and her journey towards authenticity.
This journey stands in stark contrast to Tim: a man who is running from truth and uses comedy as a mask to hide his depression. In this dynamic we create a story that embraces the deeply comedic and profoundly sad as they sit side by side in life. This juxtaposition has been my favorite part about directing this story, and also the biggest challenge: finding that tonal balance to gracefully dance between laughter and tears. I’m so grateful for our two lead actors, Rachael Harris and Rob Huebel who were more than up for the task.
Making this film and seeing it through to completion has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. We faced every challenge imaginable: losing producers, losing financing, losing locations, impossibly high page count days, firing inebriated crew, subzero temperatures, a pregnant director… Now, nearly five years after that first conversation between myself and the writer, I am so proud that we finally get to share it. Other than the tiny human I just brought into the world, it is the thing I am most proud of creating. In many ways, that’s why I relate to our protagonist: a woman from a small town who dares to dream of something bigger. Her journey isn’t straightforward, and she makes a few mistakes along the way, but in the end she does the most important thing that any of us can do in life: TRY.