The Skeleton Twins (2014) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language, some sexuality and drug use
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, Boyd Holbrook, Ty Burrell, Joanna Gleason
Director: Craig Johnson
Screenplay: Mark Heyman, Craig Johnson
Review published September 29, 2014
Two of "Saturday Night Live"'s brightest alumni, Bill Hader (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, They Came Together) and Kristen Wiig (How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), join forces for a seriocomic effort that spotlights both thespians ability to deliver heartfelt dramatic turns. They play sardonic struggling actor Milo and happily(?) married dental hygienist Maggie, a couple of depressed siblings of opposite sexes still suffering from a childhood that saw their father kill himself and mother (Gleason, Last Vegas) neglect them, with the former saved in the nick of time after trying end it all himself and the latter's own efforts coming to a stop when she receives the phone call of her brother's hospitalization. Milo ends up moving in from Los Angeles to upstate New York with Maggie and her magnanimous and loving hubby, Lance (Wilson, 3:10 to Yuma), attempting to rekindle a romance from his high school days, while she struggles to stay faithful to the man who wants her to be a mom.
Directed by Craig Johnson (True Adolescents), many will be surprised at how assured the drama is, especially when you have two of the funniest improv comedians front and center. The laughs are still there, but there are just as many tearful moments, and two sterling performances from unlikely sources who deliver far better than expected. I'd go so far as to say that I don't think two other actors could have done a better job making this film as funny or as heartbreaking. Just when you think Hader has completely stolen the show, Wiig chips in with a couple of terrific scenes that shows she has more range than just playing odd ducks, and all of those years working closely with Hader really draw out the best in her. Here's hoping for more collaborations.
The budget is low, but the performers shine bright enough to cover over any dip in indie production values. The grayness and grit serve the production well, as this isn't one of those light, colorful sitcom comedies; it's appropriately edgy. This is a movie about the difficulties of getting out of ruts we feel we belong in -- a kind of self-abuse we engage in because we don't feel like we deserve the good life, wrecking ourselves time and again to feel that pity we grew up knowing nearly every day of our lives. At least, it is for those of us who grew up with depression in the family, we see that existence as "normal" eventually, so when something good comes along, it takes us outside of our so-called comfort zone. And it's about how even damaged people can heal themselves in the helping of others they love heal from their own self-inflicted wounds, relying on one another for support when the rest of the world just wouldn't understand -- not the way a twin would.
While some might be disappointed that The Skeleton Twins isn't the laugh riot they might be expecting given the cast and advertisements, those with a more open mind will be delighted that the moments in between the mirth are filled with poignant, truthful, and emotionally astute conversations that the two leads deliver with nuanced believability. Mixing darkly biting wit with a respectfully cathartic look at the difficulties of moving on from life's downs with (hopefully) a better way to cope than self-destructive acts, Johnson's film emerges as both one of the funniest and most profoundly moving films of 2014. It's an endearing and very human comedy.
©2014 Vince Leo