THE SKELETON TWINS
*** (out of ****)
The opening segment of The Skeleton Twins finds the suicide attempt of Maggie (Kristin Wiig) interupted by a phone call from a nurse who explains that Maggie’s twin brother Milo (Bill Hader) has survived his suicide attempt. This is one of the scariest scenes you can see, not because of the deathly serious topic of suicide, but because it’s a sign you’ve entered into Twee-Indie-Drama-Land. Twee-Indie-Drama-Land is a less than happy place that loves cleverness over truth. This puts a lot of pressure on whoever the actors are. Here we have two SNL-alums; one, a budding superstar still trying to figure out how to aim her shining light, and the other, a comedian not well known outside of SNL fans, and even to them he’s known as a master impressionist. The film is comedic, but not a comedy. This is the kind of opening scene that makes me scared about that actors won’t be able to pull this off, or whether the movie will even allow them. All of a sudden, I’m taken out of the movie, more worried about Kristin and Bill’s career than I am Maggie and Milo’s lives.
I soon find out that I’m an insane, untrusting asshole. After we spend some time getting to know Maggie and Milo separately, we get to see what their estranged relationship is like now. It’s their unhappiness with how far apart they are that gives the audience hope that these two will get past their bullshit and show off that rapport. It’s easy to imagine two other actors, who didn’t spend seven years on the same set writing and acting out skits, struggling to get the audience to believe that their relationship had crumbled, and now they are slowly building it back. The script would have had to rely on lines like “Our relationship has crumbled, and now we slowly are building it back.” With Wiig and Hader, you can just turn the camera on and let them figure the moments out together.
All of this relationship repairing has to take the mandatory dark turn. Just before that, however, we get the best example of Hader and Wiig overcoming the odds of this becoming a typical Indie drama. To cheer Wiig up, Hader begins to lip sync a song they must have liked when they were children. She mopes for as long as she can, but Hader breaks her down, and she jumps up to dance and once again enjoy the fact that she has a brother. On paper, it’s more schmaltzy than the opening, and more cliche. It’s the kind of scene that gets thrown into movies so the trailer for the film can have some action or music. And yet, despite all of that, it’s pure fucking delight, and a contender for the scene of the year.
Wiig’s Maggie is good, but in a lot of ways she’s just a less witty version of most of Wiig’s straight women. Hader is the revelation here, and not just because he at no point relies on his vocal talents. Hader is straight, and Milo is gay, and Milo has effeminate tendencies, and it’s hard to walk the line and make sure you stay true to the character. There’s no cringe inducing moments here, with Hader making his wrist go a little limper to get a harder laugh. The other scene-stealer, against all odds, is Maggie’s husband Lance, played by Luke Wilson. The character is set-up to be the douchiest of douches, one that Luke Wilson would fight against in movies of the early 2000’s. But as the film goes on, Wilson and the filmmakers don’t present Lance as a loud, “bro” screaming, asshole. Instead, Lance is a simple, uncomplicated guy who let Maggie trick him into thinking she was uncomplicated as well, just as she was tricking herself into thinking that she can be married to someone who is so uncomplicated. A two-hander with Wiig and Hader would have been good, but Wilson grounds the two, and gives the movie the dark edge it so clearly wants.
– Ryan Haley