"Skeleton Twins" Has Some Meat On Its Bones Review

It’s always slightly traumatic the first time you see a beloved comedy actor take on a more dramatic role. You associate their face and their face with the warm, comforting knowledge that something funny is very likely to happen; it’s nearly Pavlovian, the way you can almost feel the smile creeping up your face as soon as they walk onscreen. Then, sometimes, they surprise you—instead of making you laugh, they break your heart. The Skeleton Twins packs such a punch. Winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, it is indeed a comedy, but one of the darkest color, a deep funereal black. It is also a perfect showcase for Saturday Night Live alumni Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig to show that they are, in fact, more than just mere funny people—they are very talented actors.

Wiig and Hader are twins Maggie and Milo Dean, respectively. Both are pretty screwed up, still dealing with the residual trauma of their father committing suicide when they were 14. Once so close that they got matching tattoos, they haven’t spoken in 10 years; Maggie stayed in their New York hometown and married easygoing lug Lance (Luke Wilson), while Milo moved to California to become an actor. Disappointed in his failures on that front, Milo decides to slash his wrists. However, his suicide attempt is unsuccessful, and Maggie is summoned to his bedside—the hospital’s phone call coincidentally interrupting her own attempt to end it all by swallowing a large handful of pills. Maggie invites Milo to stay with her and Lance for awhile, and together, the twins haphazardly flail about life, making bad decision after bad decision and telling more lies than truths. Maggie compulsively signs up for classes like French cooking and scuba diving in an effort to inject some excitement into her increasingly domestic life and ends up sleeping with all the instructors, while Milo misguidedly lands on the doorstep of a former lover (Ty Burrell) who has moved on with his life.

The Skeleton Twins provides a painful portrait of how suicide and depression can be passed down through generations like an ugly and unwanted family heirloom, and how difficult it can be to repress the urge to prematurely end the pain of living. As Maggie notes at the start of the film, “Maybe we were doomed from the beginning.” She and her brother are the saddest of soul mates—two broken people, so unhappy with life that the only people who can begin to understand how they feel are each other. Even so, they can go from cheerfully ingesting laughing gas and sharing secrets to screaming horrific insults at each other at the drop of a hat. Maggie and Milo need each other, but neither one makes it easy for them to want each other.

The whole thing might sound rather bleak; fortunately, the deft screenplay by director Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman is jam-packed with clever yet believable dialogue and biting humor. As a result, the film manages to perform a rare balancing act—it will make you laugh and, well, if not cry, at least feel a bit verklempt. It helps that Hader and Wiig are perfect, with a natural, worn-in chemistry from their time on SNL (they also previously appeared on the big screen together as husband and wife in the underrated coming-of-age comedy Adventureland). Hader’s performance, in particular, is eye-opening. His character could just have been a rehash of Steve Carell’s sad-sack uncle in Little Miss Sunshine; as Milo himself says, “Look at me. What a tragic gay cliché.” Yet Hader, with furrowed brows and pursed lips that suggest that merely being alive gives him a headache, makes Milo a truly unique and deliciously snarky creature. The scene in which he decides to cheer Maggie up via a fabulous lip syncing performance of Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” is one of my favorite film moments from this past year. While the film’s ending is a tad too predictable, The Skeleton Twins itself is a delightful surprise.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES

The Blu-ray release of The Skeleton Twins includes a digital HD copy of the film, as well as a gag reel, outtakes, deleted scenes, making-of featurettes and multiple commentary tracks.

"The Skeleton Twins" is on sale December 16, 2014 and is rated R. Comedy, Drama. Directed by Craig Johnson. Written by Craig Johnson, Mark Heyman. Starring Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell.

Jan
20
2015
Lee Jutton • Staff Writer

Lee attended NYU for Film & TV Production, but she now works mostly in PR. Her primary obsessions in life are Doctor Who, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Arsenal F.C. When not writing about things she's watched, she's running or kickboxing in preparation for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. 

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