The Skeleton Twins
Film Scene — Oct. 28 -30
After screaming into a pillow, Maggie (Kristen Wiig) sees Milo (Bill Hader) at the stereo. Cue the best use of the ’80s throwback “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” with Hader lip-syncing the lyrics, employing the physical comedy and goofy facial expressions that defined him — and Wiig — on Saturday Night Live. Luke Wilson, Hollywood’s favorite straight man playing another straight man, Maggie’s husband Lance, leans against the doorframe, bemused. Finally, Maggie can no longer resist the siren’s call of the classic Starship track and joins her brother to begin the dance party in the living room.
The Skeleton Twins (from newcomer Craig Johnson) follows a brother-sister relationship in the aftermath of Milo’s suicide attempt. Close when they were children, ten years have passed since they have reached out to each other. Milo is a struggling actor in L.A., who never got over a high school fling (Ty Burrell, very grim); Maggie is bored with her life and tries to find fulfillment in various classes, like scuba diving, while having an affair with her instructor and avoiding the topic of “kids” — Lance wants to have a child (and his laid-back demeanor and plaid shirts suggest he’d be a great dad), but Maggie is not ready.
“Maybe we were doomed from the beginning,” Maggie narrates at the onset, and the film continually flirts between comedy and tragedy, adding a layer of reality that’s as compelling as it is fun to watch.
The dramedy succeeds on two levels: chemistry and tone. Wiig and Hader deliver their best work to date, spring-boarding from moments of hilarity to those that’ll make you cry. During one scene, I felt a single tear slide down my cheek, like when it’s 32 degrees outside and you’re walking quickly to avoid the cold. I was unsure if I should wipe the tear, or let gravity and my beard do the work. Turns out more tears would follow — both, of what my younger sister calls, “sad tears” and “happy tears.”
Surprisingly, there are dozens of laughs not included in the trailer. There’s a scene in a dentist’s office involving nitrous oxide that’s so funny and real, it was as if the audience was taking pulls of laughing gas too. The director seemed comfortable to allow his actors do what they do best — improvise and be goofballs — and knew exactly when and where to reign them in. The script is smart, with foreshadowing throughout that doesn’t spoil, but, rather, sweetens the deal.
That’s not to say it’s without problems. A lot of the themes of the film have been overplayed and the results may seem too cookie-cutter for some. If I had read the script, rather than seen the film, I might believe that it was a John Green ripoff for adults, and with the wrong direction or actors, another forgettable tearjerking romp. But none of that perturbed me.
Perhaps I am biased to the genre. I find immense pleasure in watching romantic comedies, Nicholas Sparks adaptations and early-’00s McConaughey. For me, feel-good-movies always succeed; for 90 minutes, I ignore my inherent cynicism and until the credits stop rolling and before I am back in a bar ordering another shot of Cuervo, I feel good.
Here, the cliches, and there are quite a few — some of them self-acknowledged, others self-indulgent — are masked by the emotions of our leads. When they laugh, we laugh; when they cry, we do too. It’s both because Wiig and Hader are each relatable and dynamic, but also because we yearn for connections.
Relationships that follow the rom-com rhythm (down-up-down-TBA) are not trope: they’re true. I still call a girl who I used to love and now hate, I ignore texts and then setup dinner dates. Being human means inciting drama means creating comedy means making a movie about twins with issues that might or might not be confronted.
I have ten siblings, so the odds suggest I’d have one relationship similar to Wiig and Hader’s. Unfortunately, no. But that’s not to say I don’t share a powerful bond with someone who’s not related to me. We all have a skeleton twin, whether we acknowledge it or not, and that notion — and of course the chemistry between the leads — is what brings this film to life.