Directed by Craig Johnson
Starring Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook
Assured direction and honest performances elevate director Craig Johnson’s second feature, turning what could have been a rote relationship dramedy into something quite special.
The Skeleton Twins sees estranged adult twins Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) reunited when news of the former’s suicide attempt interrupts the planned attempt by the latter and she invites him to convalesce in the New York home she shares with her unassuming, good guy husband, Lance (Luke Wilson). As Milo a gay failed actor, starts putting his life back together, working clearing scrub with Lance and reaching out to a still-cherished former lover, Rich (Ty Burrell), Maggie’s seems to be falling apart. Not only is she secretly taking birth control pills while ostensibly trying to have a baby with Rich, she has embarked on a series of passionless affairs, the latest with her scuba instructor, Billy (Boyd Holbrook with a horrible Australian accent). Somewhere in the middle they meet, rekindling their close sibling bond.
Tragicomedy is hard act to pull off, but director and co-writer Johnson clearly understands that the way to make it work is not to whipsaw the mood back and forth but to imbue the funny scenes with pathos and the sad scenes with drollery. The soon-to-be-famous Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now is a prime example – a furiously funny scene that still manages to teach us about the characters and histories of everyone involved.
The cast are uniformly excellent. Eschewing the obvious “sad clown” analysis, let’s just say that SNL veterans Hader and Wiig bring warmth, self-deprecation and fragile humanity to the roles of Milo and Maggie, whose closeness was forged by an unconventional childhood under the care of eccentric, self-absorbed parents (Joanna Gleason’s one scene as their hippy-dippy new age mother tells us everything we need to know) and sundered by a well-meaning act by Maggie that Milo is unable to forgive. Modern Family’s Ty Burrell communicates deep pain and self-loathing as the closeted Rich, while Wilson’s Lance would have been a one-note caricature in lesser hands.
Ultimately, The Skeleton Twins is a very funny film about very sad people wanting what they can’t have and coming to some kind of peace with who they are and what they have through humour, empathy and absolution – both of each other and themselves. Insightful, funny and honest without being cynical or judgmental, it’s a true indie gem.