Release: Friday, September 12, 2014 (limited)
Written by: Craig Johnson; Mark Heyman
Directed by: Craig Johnson
Sniffle. It’s just so sad, you guys — these SNL kids are all growing up. . . !
Back in February I would not have looked at Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig — deserving as they are of their own vehicle — as contenders for Best Actor/Actress for next year, and I certainly would not have predicted this honor being bestowed upon them for their contributions to drama. In Craig Johnson’s sophomore effort The Skeleton Twins, the duo leaves an indelible mark upon 2014’s collage of strong performances, ranking as some of the most colorful as well as honest contributions all year.
In this unabashedly emotional drama about estranged — yes, twins, you got it — Hader and Wiig are physically full-grown versions of Eddie Schweighardt and Sydney Lucas’ little Milo and Maggie, respectively, who are limited to flashback sequences.
We aren’t shown their complete history, just enough to appreciate that their respective lives have slowly come unraveled, emotional and psychological pain taking unique tolls on the individuals while the pain of living in a very broken family haunts them both in perpetuity. As a measure of just how far we’ve come since the days of their six-minute skits, I need only refer to the opening scene, one in which we’re presented with Wiig’s Maggie, on the edge (of a toilet seat) and on the verge of making a rash decision. A handful of pills are about to be forced to her lips by her own hand, but she’s unable to follow through as a phone call intrudes upon her introspective hour. It’s about her brother; he’s in the hospital following his own suicide attempt.
Maggie decides it’d be best for both of them if Milo comes to stay with her and her husband Lance (Luke Wilson) for awhile. It’s been a decade since either of them spoke to one another so this is really quite the grand gesture. Particularly when its evident Maggie’s hubby isn’t exactly down with the lifestyle Milo leads as a gay actor from L.A. In turn, Milo’s not really impressed with his sister’s taste in men. Safe to say there are a few other things the two jab each other about over the coming days and weeks.
And herein lies the beauty of this movie. Despite opening on a rather confronting note using attempted suicide to introduce us to the characters, there’s still an ocean of things we can identify with as this dysfunctional brother-sister duo gradually open themselves back up to one another. They may be taking extreme measures, yet it’s their vulnerability that draws us towards them, makes us come to love them. Not pity them. A lot of that should be credited to the tag-team of Hader and Wiig, a typical comedic dream-team totally transformed into a sorrowful bunch still worth rooting for.
Good as the actors are, there is a perfect marriage between this script and these particular SNL alums. Words are lifted from the pages of Mark Heyman and Craig Johnson’s collaboration and in the mouths of the right people they’re transformed into weapons, some striking with almost deadly force as Milo and Maggie try their best to not create more problems for one another, as small cracks in their initial standoffish-ness eventually yield great, gaping chasms. Secrets are revealed: marital issues between Maggie and Lance; Milo’s dark past with a former teacher of his (Ty Burrell, who’s also excellent).
Not only are they mindful of how their script reflects the lives of the broken-spirited, Heyman and Johnson are careful to not sugarcoat proceedings nor dwell too long on the melancholic blue. The celluloid is tinted rather than soaked heavily in its own prejudices towards its characters, which is partly why the opening scenes work so effectively. There are a number of mesmerizing sequences throughout, most of them revolving around one of the most fully-realized characters Bill Hader has ever undertaken. A few include their bonding over laughing gas at Maggie’s dental office; a Halloween party in which Hader dresses in appropriately hilarious/horrifying drag; the duo’s lip-synched rendition of ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,’ by Starship.
Heartfelt, incredibly well-performed, highly entertaining and just quirky enough to escape a great many comparisons to other similar stories featuring an estranged pair making amends after lost time, The Skeleton Twins is not only one of the greatest dramedies this reviewer has seen, but one of the more tonally balanced and emotionally resonant efforts made all year.
Recommendation: If you call yourself a fan of either Hader or Wiig, what are you waiting for? Purr chase your ticket — pronto! Arguably their best work thus far, their latest outing sees them operating at an entirely different level. It’s not particularly a story you haven’t seen done before but none of that matters when the characters and dialogue is this convincing. I highly, highly recommend.
Running Time: 93 mins.
Quoted: “I can’t wait to be the creepy, gay uncle . . .”
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