THE SKELETON TWINS

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Craig Johnson

Stars: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook, Joanna Gleason

A rather bleak and black comedy about dysfunctional family and sibling relationships and mental illness, The Skeleton Twins was one of the hits of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, with the script from director Craig Johnson and co-writer Mark Heyman (the psychological drama Black Swan)winning the prestigious Waldo Salt screenplay award. The film reunites SNL alumni Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, who both appeared in the great coming of age comedy Adventureland.

Hader plays Milo, a self loathing, gay out of work actor struggling to survive in Los Angeles, who one day decides to end his misery and attempts to commit suicide. On the same day, on the other side of the country, his twin sister Maggie (Wiig, from Bridesmaids, etc) also contemplates suicide but changes her mind. While Milo recuperates in hospital, she flies out to visit him. Once really close, the two have grown apart and haven’t seen each other for a decade. At Maggie’s insistence, Milo returns to New York with her and moves into her house with her and he husband, the affable, optimistic and well meaning Lance (Luke Wilson), with whom she has nothing in common.

But the pair also have skeletons in their closets, and raw emotions surface and secrets begin to emerge as they open old wounds that impact on their relationship.

Milo meets up with Rich (Ty Burrell, from Modern Family), a former high school teacher and sexual partner who caused him a lot of emotional stress years ago, and attempts a reconciliation. Meanwhile Maggie is clearly unhappy in her marriage and is also unfaithful to Lance.

This film offers Hader a rare opportunity to strut his stuff in a dramatic role, and he rises to the occasion with a great performance as the acerbic, emotionally damaged, self-destructive and bitter Milo, revealing hidden depths to his talent. Wiig manages to convey Maggie’s inner torment and uncertainties. Hader and Wiig also have a palpable chemistry that helps lift the material and carry it through many moments that misfire. Wilson is touching and sweet as the gentle Lance. Joanna Gleason makes a small appearance as their estranged and self-absorbed mother whose presence is a toxic reminder of their family’s turbulent history.

The Skeleton Twins is by turns quirky, insightful, poignant, warm and funny, but the subject matter is unlikely to hold broad appeal. The characters are largely an unpleasant lot, and the film explores some dark themes, like incest, suicide, depression and mental illness with black humour. Despite lots of depressing things that happen to the pair during the course of the film their lives gradually seem to improve, and there is a genuine sense of optimism by the end. One of the best moments in the film comes as Milo and Maggie burst into an impromptu lip synch singalong to Starship’s 80s power anthem Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.

★★★

 

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