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SFIFF 2014: ‘The Skeleton Twins’ a bittersweet change for Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader

SFIFF 2014: ‘The Skeleton Twins’ a bittersweet change for Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader

The Skeleton Twins

Written by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman

Directed by Craig Johnson

USA, 2014

With acclaimed runs as featured players on Saturday Night Live under their belts, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig have now made a successful foray into drama. In Craig Johnson’s The Skeleton Twins, the renowned comedians play the titular siblings who, after both cheating death on the same day, try to reconnect and confront the dark family history that led to their suicide attempts.

Co-written by Johnson and fellow NYU grad film alum Mark Heyman (who was famously poached from class by Darren Aronofsky and went on to pen Black Swan; their other classmate was Cary Fukunaga of True Detective) while the two were still students, this long dormant project epitomizes the type of modestly-budgeted, adult-targeted films that rarely get made, and only when headlined by big names. Though dark in subject matter, dealing with identity crisis, infidelity, depression and death, The Skeleton Twins’ moments of levity balance out a tone that’s ultimately more Silver Linings Playbook than A Single Man.

To help get Milo (Hader), a struggling actor, back on his feet, Maggie (Wiig) invites him to stay with her and husband Lance (Luke Wilson) in upstate New York where the twins grew up. Though Maggie appears to have her life in order — a good job, a nice house, and a seemingly stable marriage — Milo’s reckless presence leads to friction and, later, catharsis as the two learn how to face both each other and their inner demons.

Wilson lends surprisingly strong support playing the all-around good guy Maggie can’t bear to lose despite her innate instability, but it’s Wiig and Hader who make the film tick with their geminal chemistry. They were so good together, in fact, that during the post-screening Q&A, Johnson lamented having to cut back on some of their best moments together. (Look out for an extended version of Milo and Maggie getting high on laughing gas at the dentist’s office after hours on the DVD.)

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Bittersweet, tender, and tainted with ‘80s nostalgia, The Skeleton Twins will make you want to run to your siblings and hug them closer. Feuds will fade, but family is forever.

— Misa Shikuma