‘The Skeleton Twins’ delicately soars between comedy and tragedy

the skeleton twinsThe Skeleton Twins
Written by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman
Directed by Craig Johnson
USA, 2014

As The Skeleton Twins delicately soars between comedy and tragedy, it smartly peels back layers of troubled backstory for the lives of its main characters: estranged twin siblings, separated for about a decade, who share suicidal tendencies. At the very moment Maggie Dean (Kristen Wiig), a dental hygienist from upstate New York, is about to swallow a handful of sleeping pills, she receives the message that her brother, Milo (Bill Hader), an unsuccessful actor in Hollywood, is in the hospital after slitting his wrists. Suicide and dysfunction runs in the Dean household. Their father killed himself when they were teenagers, and their mother (Joanna Gleason) is a pseudo-spiritual egotist with a thick layer of delusional and emotional baggage.

the skeleton twinsAlthough tentative, Maggie unwillingly invites Milo into the home of her and her husband, the cheerful Lance (Luke Wilson). The movie, written and directed by Craig Johnson (True Adolescents) alongside Mark Heyman (Black Swan), aggressively observes the bonds of siblings, particularly with twins. The strength of sibling compassion has become a popular trope in storytelling (i.e. Frozen), yet The Skeleton Twins faintly evokes a common empathy that can only exist on a primal level.

the skeleton twinsAfter working closely together on Saturday Night Live, Hader’s and Wiig’s connection as twins comes across as purely organic, especially in scenes where comedy breaks up dramatic tension. Lance, a nonchalant well-rounded outsider, is aware of Maggie’s flaws and takes them on as a hopeful challenge. The three of them make up a very new, eccentric family unit once Milo, who is gay and lonely, moves in. And once settled in, Milo seems to be the most stable with his life and sexuality. What can be misconstrued as a somber version of his Stefon character from SNL is, in actuality, handled with maturity and gravitas. With much of the attention given to Wiig and Hader, for their comedic departure into drama, not enough credit is being given to Luke Wilson. Straddling the line of being an egotistic buffoon and macho man-child, Lance is ultimately neither. Instead, Lance becomes the ultimate victim from the emotional mixture possessing the lives of Maggie and Milo.

The Skeleton Twins is a well-written and acted movie that strays far away from melodrama. Instead, more weighty slices of life pin up against Maggie and Milo, particularly with an inappropriate relationship with high school English teacher, Rich (Ty Burrell). As brief as their scenes may be, fraught by tension and vagueness, the film suggests that Milo exploits and renounces the whole affair. Maggie, meanwhile, has her own sexual secrets. While not in love with Lance, she fulfills her void by sleeping with Australian scuba-diving teacher (Boyd Holbrook). Weighed down by feelings of massive shame, she slips into a state of barely functional depression.

What deters the film away from being an overbearing drama is the comedic relief inspired and improvised by Milo and Maggie as they play like children. The movie descends from tragedy when the twins visits Maggie’s dentist office and go out for Halloween. When Milo lip-syncs to Starship’s ’80s rock anthem “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”, it’s hard not to grin. That’s the charm of the chemistry between Hader and Wigg, and what makes The Skeleton Twins a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience.

– Christopher Clemente

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