Cinema review – The Skeleton Twins

The Skeleton twins film poster

Cast: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson and Ty Burrell

Plot Summary: After ten years of estrangement, twins Maggie and Milo coincidentally cheat death on the same day, prompting them to reunite and confront how their lives went so wrong. As the twins’ reunion reinvigorates them both, they realize that the key to fixing their lives just may lie in fixing their relationship with each other.

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig were arguably two of the most talented SNL cast members in the show’s history. They elevated every sketch they were in and made them worth watching. So, when I found out that they were teaming up again for this project, I was ecstatic. Now given their comedic backgrounds, you would expect this film to be a goofy tour-de-farce filled with gross-out gags and awkward social situations. Instead, it is actually quite a sombre and, at times, poignant drama enlivened by comical moments scattered throughout. And to be honest, given the film’s tricky subject matters (suicide, depression and sexual grooming to name a few), those moments of light relief are much-needed.

The film sets its dark tone right from the get-go where we see our male protagonist attempting to kill himself by slashing his wrists in the bathtub. On the other side of the country, his twin sister is just about to take an overdose when she gets a phone call from the hospital where her brother has just been admitted. She flies over to LA to see her brother for the first time in a decade. After a couple of awkward exchanges, she persuades him to stay with her for a while back in their New York hometown. For the next 80 minutes or so, we see them trying to make up for lost time while at the same time deal with their own problems. Milo, disenchanted with the world after failing to make it big as an actor, gets back in contact with his old ex-lover Rich, who now has a girlfriend and a teenage son. It turns out that Rich was his English teacher, with whom he had an illicit affair when he was just 15. We soon see the toxic nature of their relationship resurface, causing much confusion and pain for Milo. Meanwhile, Maggie is in a crisis of her own. While it seems she has everything going for her (her loving, if slightly annoying husband Lance, a nice house and a steady job), she’s quietly falling apart. She tries to numb the pain by having a fling with her Scuba diving instructor while making Lance believe they’re trying for a baby when she’s actually taking birth control on the sly.
The only time Maggie and Milo truly feel alive is when they are together, engaging in the past-times of their youth (dressing up for Halloween, getting giddy on laughing gas and apparently lip-syncing to 80’s soft-rock).

Director and co-writer Craig Johnson certainly struck gold casting Hader and Wiig as the leads. I thoroughly enjoyed Wiig’s work in Bridesmaids and on Saturday Night Live (although her shtick did get quite repetitive at times). As Maggie, she continues to impress as a leading lady and shows off strong dramatic chops whilst also not neglecting her notable comedic skills. However, the film’s true standout performance comes from Hader in, would you believe it or not, his first leading role. What I admired the most about Hader’s work on SNL was how well he could disappear into any role, no matter how big or small it was. And this is exactly what he does here so wonderfully. He turns Milo into someone you can really empathise with and who you grow to love towards the end. He skillfully switches from comedy to drama when the scene calls for it and the range he displays throughout the film is nothing short of remarkable. This is definitely a game-changer for Hader and completely tops all of his previous performances (including his outstanding work on SNL). I’m very excited to see what he does next. The main strength of the film though is the chemistry between Wiig and Hader. Having spent years working together, the two have built up a very close friendship in real life which translates on-screen into one of the most convincing adult-sibling relationships I’ve seen in any film.

The supporting cast also do wonders with the little amounts of screen time they have. Luke Wilson is effortlessly charming as Maggie’s outdoorsy husband Lance, a good-hearted man who just wants the best for everyone. And Ty Burrell, who I’ve only ever seen in a few episodes of Modern Family, does a solid job portraying a pathetic man tormented by his past demons who we end up caring about a lot more than we should.

The Skeleton Twins is not without its flaws though. A couple of the more dramatic scenes lack emotional punch and the subplot involving Milo’s reunion with his teacher could have been developed more. Plus, the ending is rather contrived and still leaves a few questions unanswered. But, given the talent involved, you can forgive the film for those slight mis-steps.

It’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff and will probably fly under most peoples’ radars but it’s still a very enjoyable little film boosted by career-best performances and the best lip-syncing scene since Pretty in Pink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *