The Skeleton Twins (2014) Review

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Craig Johnson (True Adolescents) takes to the camera for his sophomore effort, The Skeleton Twins, a film I was highly anticipating, and even more-so when the festival buzz began to make the rounds. With a lead cast predominantly known for their comedic performances, including well-known work on improv-comedy show Saturday Night Live, I was drawn to the possibility of seeing them do something different, curious of how the results would fare.

Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids) and Bill Hader (Superbad) play twin brother and sister, Maggie and Milo Dean, two people with vivid similarities and obvious differences. After ten years of not seeing one another, Maggie and Milo come back together due to their failed attempts at taking their own lives. Maggie lives with her husband, Lance (Luke Wilson), a kind-hearted guy who does all he can to make her happy, though it doesn’t always seem to work. Milo is openly gay and decides, after cutting his wrists in his bathtub, to stay with his sister for a while. Showing initial distain for Maggie’s lifestyle, and falling into old destructive habits, Milo hits rock bottom, and Maggie is right there beside him, her decisions also terribly made and hurtful. With one another offering the other criticism whilst simultaneously refusing to look at their own lives, we see the twins get deeper and deeper into the holes that they are digging for themselves, literally and metaphorically, with the realisations on the horizon that it is only them that can help themselves out of their funks.

I had heard bits and pieces, prior to watching this, about how it was “Kristen Wiig’s film” and how she was the “shining light” amidst the cast, and while I did enjoy her performance and agree that she did a wonderful job, I have to disagree about it being her film. Bill Hader, an actor I have previously only experienced in slapstick and silly roles, brought something really special to the screen here. Vomiting up angst and sadness in the way he delivered his dialogue, and adding an emotional depth to Milo that I didn’t expect, Hader has proven to be more than just a “comedy guy” here, showing himself capable of dramatic roles, and ones with a real powerful darkness to them. The chemistry between Wiig and Hader might be so strong because they have worked together previously, but regardless, it was a joy to watch them on screen together. They felt authentic, real and flawed. Their bruised relationship mending as their own souls were cleansed with their coming to terms with their place in life and how their poisonous decisions were effecting other people. I thought they were truly fantastic together, and the conversations and moments that they shared didn’t feel forced or overly-scripted, possibly revealing a willingness, in director Johnson, to allow some of Wiig and Hader’s improv-past to be taken advantage of.

The writing, from Johnson and Mark Heyman (Black Swan), is on-point, interesting and feels genuine, and his characters don’t feel like they are moulded from the discarded plastic of failed independent dramas, they feel real, and pained and living, something not as easy to find as you’d hope. If I’m looking for negative aspects of the film I’m afraid I have none. I’m not sure if the dark and often depressive topics dealt with would put some people off, but for me, they didn’t. It is a true performance piece, and side characters Lance, and Rich (Ty Burrell) bring something to the story and aren’t merely a garnish. Still, make no bones (no pun intended) about it, this film rests firmly on the shoulders of Wiig and Hader, but that isn’t a bad thing. They put forth two exceptional performances, and show a side to themselves, as actors, that I’m glad they finally revealed. It will be interesting to see where the two go, in dramatic roles, from here. I recommend this one, for sure, and as well as Hader and Wiig, I will have my eye on Craig Johnson too, it’s difficult to argue with these types of results.

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