Director: Craig Johnson
Starring: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Ty Burrell, Luke Wilson
Rating: 4 out of 5 skeleton keychains. This film is a well-acted family drama that is propelled out of melodramatic territory by strong, natural, nuanced performances by Hader and Wiig, Johnson’s direction which neither dwells in darkness nor shies away from it in favor of indie cliches, and a script that likewise utilizes Hader and Wiig’s comedic talent to find the humor and humanity in an otherwise emotional, serious story about siblings, secrets, sadness, and survival.
The Skeleton Twins stars Hader and Wiig as brother and sister– unhappy and estranged, they’re isolated by their despair and reunited by it, too. Milo (Hader) is a gay wannabe actor living in LA, and Maggie (Wiig) is a married wannabe housewife in their native upstate New York. The film is a well-paced journey to self-discovery for both of them, beginning with their nearly simultaneous suicide attempts.
My favorite thing about this film is how impeccably smart and subtle and sincere the script was. It carefully weaves these siblings’ histories through the present by revealing their painful past bit by tiny bit in a way that felt completely genuine and realistic. Exposition never felt like exposition, but rather, real-life conversations between two people who maybe never really spoke about these things before. It feels like we just happen to be witnessing these revelations as they happen, and that makes the film an immensely gripping experience.
Of course, I also loved Hader and Wiig. Two of the most memorable scenes in the film are, also, the most hilarious, which shouldn’t come as a surprise necessarily but I also don’t want to downplay the brilliance of their dramatic turns here. One scene features Maggie and Milo bonding at the dentist office where she works, over laughing gas no less. What I loved about this sequence though is that while Hader and Wiig are in typically top-notch comedic form, the next scene is similarly intimate as we watch them confide in each other. It’s during this scene specifically that you remember– these are not one-dimensional SNL characters being played by SNL cast-members. These are actors who give these characters their humanity, and it seems almost effortless. The film might have seemed totally dark had it not been for their humor, but Milo and Maggie (which is to say, Hader and Wiig)– much like the best of us– ebb and flow between all these different human emotions. Another wonderful scene is their lip sync duet. The film certainly has laughs, but it also finds a balance that I think is far more impressive. The film finds the humor in dark situations but it also tests Hader and Wiig to embrace and deal with some really dark themes and situations as Milo and Maggie.
So, no, this film should not be marketed as a comedy, not even a dark comedy. This film is a drama with moments of humor that I hesitate to even call comic relief. It’s a moving, entertaining, and even somewhat thought provoking character study about two people who, while dealing with similar grief and emotional demons in different ways, slowly realize that maybe all they need is each other in order to deal with them properly and grow. The film ends on a poignant, mostly ambivalent note that demonstrates this, and the lesson is a beautiful one to behold, especially as we spend the whole film growing closer with and sympathetic to these complex characters.