Saturday, September 13, 2014

Review: The Skeleton Twins

Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions.
Craig Johnson's "The Skeleton Twins" trots out some familiar dysfunctional indie movie storylines, but what makes the material work so well is the casting of "Saturday Night Live" alums Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as the titular duo, a pair of estranged siblings who reunite during a particularly trying period in both of their lives.

At the film's beginning, Milo (Hader) bungles a suicide attempt due to what appears to be a failed relationship and Maggie (Wiig), whom he hasn't seen in a decade, shows up at his hospital bedside and invites him to come stay with her for a while in upstate New York.

Milo may be pining for a love gone bad and miserable due to his failed acting career - his snide remark about an Oscar win will likely leave you in stitches - but Maggie has some issues of her own, namely that she is unable to break it to her doting husband (Luke Wilson) that she's not yet ready to have a child - and even takes some drastic measures to avoid doing so - and is having an affair with her scuba diving coach.

As I said, the material is not necessarily anything we haven't seen before as dysfunctional families are the bread and butter of American independent films. But Wiig and Hader - who, while quite funny in the picture, manage to break out of the comedic typecasting mold here by delivering some pretty strong dramatic performances - make these characters come alive.

There are more than a few sequences that could have been less effective and affecting had other actors been in the roles, but Wiig and Hader are very good fits for the characters. And Wilson brings some depth and humor to his role as Maggie's good natured husband who refuses to believe the worst of others. Had any other actors taken part in a lip synch of all four minutes or so of Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now," I might have rolled my eyes - but Wiig and Hader pull off the sequence, making it one of the funniest - and strangely moving - moments in the movie.

There are some subplots - mostly pertaining to the past, including the siblings' relationship with their mother and one of Milo's former lovers - that threaten to crush their semi-repaired relationship toward the picture's end and I like that Johnson does not try to wrap everything up with a neat little bow. These are people who have long been struggling, so the picture rightfully doesn't correct all their worries in the manner that a lesser film might have.

"The Skeleton Twins" is often very funny, but it's also a dramatically sound picture about damaged people. And it speaks to Wiig and Hader's talents that they are just as convincing in straightforward roles as they are in comedic ones. I hope they work together again in either capacity in the near future.

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