'Skeleton Twins' Is A Refreshing Dark Comedy With Kristen Wiig & Bill Hader Leading The Show
When movie-goers first hear that SNL alums, Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader, are in Skeleton Twins, they might assume that this film is a goofy comedy. However, it isn't billed as a comedy or a drama, but rather seamlessly weaves between the two without being overly melodramatic or zany.
The film follows twins Maggie (Wiig) and Milo (Hader) who haven't spoken to each other in a decade. It opens with Milo slitting his wrists in a bathtub. While Maggie is about to shove a fistful of pills down her throat, she gets a call from the hospital about her brother, and she ends up not following through with her own suicide. You get it from the beginning: these siblings are wounded—and this isn't your regular SNL comedy sketch.
Milo's suicide attempt brings the siblings back together when Maggie suggests that he stays with her and her husband, Lance (Luke Wilson) in Nyack, New York, where the twins grew up. We find that extroverted Milo is a gay man who's firmly secure in his sexuality and can easily churn out snappy and endearing comments like how he wants to be the "creepy gay uncle" to Maggie's future child. His darkness lies in that he's a failed Hollywood actor who waits tables, and that he's still reeling from an inappropriate relationship he had as a teen with his former high school English teacher, Rich (Ty Burrell).
While Milo points out that Maggie's idyllic suburban life seems like it's out of a Martha Stewart catalog, something is amiss. Her well-meaning husband Lance (who's not the sharpest tool in the shed) wants them to have a baby together, and while she says she's all for it, Milo knows she's never wanted a child to begin with. Maggie, a dental hygienist, holds painful secrets of her own that she's not yet ready to share with Lance.
Through a series of flashbacks and new adventures, it's clear that Milo and Maggie shouldn't have ever stopped talking to each other to begin with. No matter what the fight was ever about, what's more important is that they need each other the most. Both have suffered from their father committing suicide when they were younger, and it's left them both emotionally scarred and seeing death as a way out.
However, director Craig Johnson (True Adolescents) and Mark Heyman (Black Swan), who both wrote the screenplay together, don't let the film get too depressing. (The script snagged them both a screenwriting award at this year's Sundance Film Festival.) Their characters feel real: they're both capable of doing horrible things while being kind and loving at the same time. And coupled by some impressive acting from Wiig and Hader, they are just oozing with onscreen rapport—the way best friends and the closest of siblings behave. They're brutally honest with each other, loving, playful and get into crazy antics.
In one scene that particularly captures their chemistry, they huff nitrous oxide together in Maggie's dental office and bounce off jokes with each other. During a Q&A session held by BuzzFeed earlier this month, Johnson said that those scenes were the most improvised throughout the film, and that he had to cut a lot of funnier scenes out because the back-and-forth humor made them appear to be professional comedians, not regular people. That's just shows that years of working on SNL together has brought out an effortless bond between the pair. They also lip-sync to Starship's power ballad "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now," with pure perfection; where a musical number could sometimes come off as cheesy, this instead stands out as a highlight. They're products of the '80s and we believe it.
Hader surprises us in bringing more depth to a character—he's not just playing out his flamboyant SNL Stefan character. And Wiig's performance is stellar as well, where you feel that she's fragile and just a step away from cracking. It's a lot more than the wacky characters she played on SNL (ahem, Gilly), but ever since she starred in Bridesmaids, she's proved that there are more layers to her acting.
It's not to say that all the characters are as well-rounded as Milo and Maggie. Their new age-y and selfish mother (Joanna Gleason) who didn't even bother going to Maggie and Lance's wedding two years ago, makes a brief appearance. But her character falls flat and lacks depth—she serves as little more than a vehicle to show how messed up these kids' parents are.
And though flashbacks between Maggie and Milo playing dress-up with their father at first gives us a glimpse of their close relationship as children, it gets tiring after some time when it keeps repeating. The two even pull out matching skeleton key chains from a box of old memories. We get it: they're skeleton twins.
However, that doesn't detract from the fact that Skeleton Twins is a well-crafted film that really brings a heartfelt and insightful look at family. In a way, it's like a romantic comedy, where we're rooting until the end for Maggie and Milo to be together—not in an incestuous way, but for them to be there for each other and not let another petty fight leave them giving each other the silent treatment for a decade. In the end, sometimes it's really family that will pull us out of the depths of our own shadows.
'Skeleton Twins' opens today in theaters