The Skeleton Twins

Posted by Joel Copling on September 24, 2014

"The Skeleton Twins" mercifully powers through its most contrived segment right out of the gate: Two siblings--nay, twins, if you'll believe it--are attempting to commit suicide. One is a bit closer to this goal than his sister, having cut his wrists in the tub in comparison to her, who stands at a mirror, ready to down a handful of pills. The only real reason she delays this tactic is because she receives the call from the hospital informing her of her brother's attempt. Mark Heyman and director Craig Johnson's screenplay frustratingly leaves us to wonder about the depths of this coincidence. Is it fate? Is it the phenomenon of "twin telepathy" working in a fairly sadistic way? We never know, and the feeling is one of beleaguered contrivance.

Once Milo (Bill Hader), who survives his suicide attempt due to the timely acts of a building manager, has been driven back to his hometown by twin sister Maggie (Kristen Wiig), the film settles into a much more comfortable rhythm. We are allowed to lose ourselves fully in this double character study, and what a lovely, little movie this turns out to be. Neither twin has spoken to the other in more than ten years for reasons unknown even to them. Their father committed suicide years earlier, and their mother (Joanna Gleason) has since remarried. They live rather uneventful lives, like the usual, middle-class folk of real life do, and so the drama of the film they are in lies in the low-key situations in which they find themselves.

Milo is a heavily struggling actor. He did some commercials years ago, when he first moved to Los Angeles, but he doesn't have an agent, and there are just as many current prospects. He's also gay; it is implied that an enormous reason for his suicide attempt was a break-up. Upon arriving to his hometown, he reconnects with an old flame, the older Rich (Ty Burrell, surprisingly effective in a curiously written role), who isn't as happy to see the like of him. Maggie has a doting, adorable husband in Lance (Luke Wilson), with whom she is trying to have a child, if not for her secret. She also has an eye for another man (a scuba-diving instructor played by Boyd Holbrook), an indiscretion that might just have deeper roots than expected.

After that clumsy opening--and until the final minutes offer just as inexplicable a justification for the depressive, suicidal mindset--"The Skeleton Twins" is a lovely picaresque, especially when focused upon the chemistry between Milo and Maggie. Hader is a revelation as the former, barely a whiff of his "Saturday Night Live" persona visible in a haunting performance steeped in regret and turmoil of the kind only the truly lonely can possess. Wiig is her reliably wonderful self, too, and the pair shares a hilarious, joyous lip-sync-along to an 80s staple and, earlier, an evening hopped up on the nitrous oxide in the machines at Maggie's dentist office. They completely sell the idea that they are twins, ravaged by a life that has dealt them nothing but heartache and a genetic disposition to find the answer in an abyss. It may begin and end awkwardly, but "The Skeleton Twins" nails this emotional conceit, which is a crucial triumph in its own right.

Film Information

Bill Hader (Milo), Kristen Wiig (Maggie), Luke Wilson (Lance), Ty Burrell (Rich), Boyd Holbrook (Billy), Joanna Gleason (Judy).

Directed by Craig Johnson and written by Johnson and Mark Heyman.

Rated R (language, sexuality, drug use).

93 minutes.

Released in select cities on September 12, 2014.