The Good: Great editing, Impressive acting, Good direction
The Bad: Virtually plotless/awkward/oppressive tone
The Basics: The Skeleton Twins lives up to its hype as a disturbing and wonderfully funny dramedy.
As I rush toward the completion of viewing the last few films from 2014 that were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, I find myself distracted by a movie or two that I missed last year that I would rather watch than one of the Oscar nominees. Chief among them was The Skeleton Twins. The Skeleton Twins came out when my wife and I were on vacation in Minnesota and while we wanted to see it in theaters, none of the ones near where we were staying were showing it (we managed to catch This Is Where I Leave You - reviewed here! – instead). Well, we’ve finally rectified that and The Skeleton Twins has leapt into our permanent collection. The fact that it was not nominated for Oscars only shows how narrow the attention spans of the members of the Academy are.
Milo Dean attempts to kill himself on the same day that his estranged twin sister, Maggie, is about to take an overdose of pills across the country. Maggie rushes to Milo’s side – alerted because he left his music playing loud and his suicide attempt was discovered – and she invites him to return to New York with her. Milo comes reluctantly, where he meets Maggie’s outgoing, good (if somewhat white bread) husband, Lance. Milo is put off by Lance and he is shocked when he learns that his sister is trying to get pregnant with him (the last he knew, she despised the idea of having children). Milo tempts fate by going to visit Rich, who is now the owner of a small book store while Maggie is out taking scuba lessons.
Maggie’s scuba lessons lead her to an affair with the instructor. As she confesses to Milo and Milo admits to her that he has seen Rich (who had an inappropriate relationship with Milo while Milo was still a minor). Milo discovers that Maggie is still on birth control pills and when Maggie criticizes his choices, he puts Lance on the path to the truth. The result is both Milo and Maggie have the chance to fall apart and reunite after decades apart.
Milo is deeply sarcastic and he is wrestling with powerful depression. He is aptly played by Bill Hader and Hader manages to find the perfect balance between his established track record of goofy performances and a serious, deeply wounded person affected by his past. One of the aspects of The Skeleton Twins that works so perfectly for the film is for a movie that had some impressive and long preview trailers, the film is packed with surprisingly good lines and moments. The incredibly awkward dinner between Milo, Maggie, their mother Judy and Lance was absent from the extensive trailers and yields some of the film’s best moments (from the drop of the aquarium to Milo snarkily repeating Judy’s New Age nonsense line, anyone who has had a strained relationship with family can relate).
Joanna Gleason (Judy), Ty Burrell (Rich) and Luke Wilson (Lance) give wonderful supporting performances in The Skeleton Twins. Burrell is anything but goofy in the role of Rich and Wilson represses his own morbidity to play the straightman opposite Hader’s sarcastic Milo. Gleason is surprisingly able to repress all of the intelligence and professional qualities that made her an excellent fit for her arc on The West Wing to play the flighty mother of the two disturbed twins.
Kristen Wiig, who has been exploring the depths of her dramatic potential since leaving Saturday Night Live manages to set the bar higher for herself with The Skeleton Twins. The challenge for Wiig coming into The Skeleton Twins was to play a heavy dramatic character without simply reprising her awkward and dramatic role from Hateship Loveship (reviewed here!). Maggie is much more grounded in reality and much more in touch with her emotions than her character from Hateship Loveship. Instead, Wiig is able to play Maggie as depressed and full of self-doubt in a way that is different from the social isolation of her other dramatically-grounded character.
What brings The Skeleton Twins down a bit is the length of investment the audience goes through for the entertainment value of the film. Long stretches of the film follow two depressed protagonists who lead charmless lives and are stuck without any sense of catharsis. Milo and Maggie spend much of the movie lying to one another and while the viewer waits for them to either admit they have been lying or deal with whatever led to their fall-out, the film wanders. While the scene at the hygienist’s office eventually lead to Maggie’s big confession about her present, it is a long way to go before the movie progresses. Milo, alas, never manages to admit his truths to her or Rich, but the backstory about Milo and Rich is discussed, so at least the characters and their fall-out from before the film makes some sense.
Watching The Skeleton Twins is not about things that happen, it’s about how people interact and watching some comedic actors who clearly love working with one another play impressively different roles than they have before. The Skeleton Twins works well and is worth seeing and while the Academy might have forgotten it, it is a film that deserves attention and accolades.
For other works with Bill Hader, please check out my reviews of:
22 Jump Street
Star Trek Into Darkness
This Is 40
Men In Black 3
Hoodwinked Too: Hood Versus Evil
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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