Thursday, September 11, 2014
The Skeleton Twins
The Skeleton Twins
Dir. Craig Johnson
3.5 out of 5
I haven't done extensive research, but I am pretty certain that the topic of attempted suicide has fallen the aegis of comedy more than that of drama throughout the last couple of decades. I suppose some filmmakers feel that it makes a kind of morbid sense, as your basic comedic protagonist usually starts at or quickly experiences an exaggerated low point. The Skeleton Twins doubles down in the first five minutes, with titular siblings Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) both either contemplating or failing at the act of killing themselves. The experience forces them to reconnect in their old childhood stomping grounds, where Maggie is drifting apart from her amiable granola bro of a husband (Luke Wilson) while Milo unwisely decides to rekindle a dysfunctional romance from his teenage years.
As two recent alums of the Saturday Night Live proving grounds, Hader and Wiig have a divine chemistry that surpasses even the most optimistic of expectations. Their relationship has an immediate lived-in quality that provides the film - which is essentially a melodrama - the verisimilitude that it requires. Wiig is impressive as a downbeat variation on her Bridesmaids character, a woman torn between her wants and her needs. It's also the finest work of Hader’s film career to date. He plays a man locating a personality that's equally pitiable and playful; it's some of the most legitimately genuine acting I've seen this year. (I should also mention that Milo is a gay man, a detail that informs the character's plotline much more than Hader's actual performance - he's definitely no Stefon.)
The Skeleton Twins works down the checklist of a prototypical Sundance film with its slightly-against-type performances, cleverer-than-real-life bon mots, and white middle class ennui. However, director Craig Johnson tosses at least a few curveballs at the audience simply by letting his stars dictate the rhythm of several key scenes - at one point, Johnson keeps rolling on an extended lip-sync rendition of "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" that ends up defining Milo and Maggie's bond better than any exchange of dialogue. Such moments are essential, considering that the admittedly funny script - written by Johnson and collaborator Mark Heyman - has difficulty revealing anything about its characters that isn’t plated with the armor of irony and sarcasm.
Yet that’s true to the characters in many ways, who struggle with anything that might make them appear too vulnerable, not understanding that leaving things in the past requires you to mourn them first. The Skeleton Twins might take a while to clue us in to Maggie and Milo’s true inner lives, but it eventually gives them a roadmap to maturity that doesn’t require them to pursue dull, unfulfilling compromises. That’s certainly something to live for.