Directed by: Craig Johnson
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, Boyd Holbrook, Ty Burrell
When a movie stars former cast members of Saturday Night Live, it's usually a sign to avoid it. The American comedy institution is a good three decades past its Murphy/Murray/Belushi prime. It has, however, in recent years produced two notable double acts. The most high profile duo, thanks mainly to their Golden Globe hosting antics, is that of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, but their comic talent has yet to translate successfully to big screen comedy. The second duo, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, have flown comparatively under the radar, but their movie efforts have born considerably riper fruit. You might remember them as the fun park owners in the under-rated Adventureland, a movie unfairly lumped in with the Apatow set. Now they're back in the darkest roles of their often overlapping careers.
Maggie (Wiig) is about to overdose on pills when she receives a phone call from a Los Angeles hospital that's just admitted her brother Milo (Hader) after he sliced his wrists in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Maggie flies out to LA and returns to her home in small town upstate New York with the brother she hasn't spoken to in 10 years. While reconnecting with the teacher (Burrell) he conducted an illegal affair with during his high school tenure, Milo soon discovers that despite her outward content and seemingly happy marriage to too good to be true hubby Lance (Wilson), Maggie is just as troubled as himself.
For some reason, the past month or so has given us a deluge of movies in which estranged thirtysomethings reconnect with their families. These films usually feature a return to a quaintly unglamorous home town, and more often than not, a soundtrack heavy on '80s tunes. The Skeleton Twins gives us just that, making it unfairly feel a little more tired than it really should. A scene in which the two leads mime to Starship's 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now' is an interlude that feels tonally at odds with the rest of the film, like a cheap attempt at spinoff viral marketing, and Wilson's Lance, while entertaining, feels like a well worn staple of this genre.
Otherwise, Craig Johnson's film is one of the more successful graduations from the mumblecore school. As a double act, Wiig and Hader generate a cosy platonic warmth, but it's the latter who owns the film, delivering a brilliantly nuanced performance as someone who, like most clowns, uses humour as a defence mechanism, to the chagrin of those who see through his comic veil. The suicide element, and its blackly comic handling, may prove difficult for more delicate viewers, but the film manages it in a sensitive and honest manner. It may feature too many concessions to mainstream comedy acceptance to fully mine its potential, but when The Skeleton Twins is allowed to stand on its own feet, it's a bittersweet dramedy with some beautifully subtle performances.
By Eric Hillis