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Review: The Skeleton Twins (2014)

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

Directed by: Craig Johnson

Premise: A pair of depressed siblings (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) reunites in the aftermath of a suicide attempt. As they fumble toward a reconnection, old family scandals and tensions resurface.

What Works: Most viewers know Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig from their participation with Saturday Night Live. Both have since left the show and moved onto other projects. Kristen Wiig has found considerable success in feature films, most notably with the comedy Bridesmaids, but she’s recently been on a streak of very interesting dramatic performances in movies such as Girl Most Likely, Friends with Kids, and Hateship Loveship. Although the films have been of mixed quality, Wiig’s performances have been consistently impressive and she has demonstrated a capacity for nuance and drama. Bill Hader has also branched into feature films as well as working on a myriad of television projects but he has often been called upon to play supporting roles, usually as the witty friend who talks the lead male character through his problems. With The Skeleton Twins, Hader and Wiig are allowed to call on both their comic and dramatic skills and their performances are full of complexity. The actors play siblings whose lives are in a rut and the story opens with both of them facing the prospect of suicide. Hader’s character beats his sister to it and in the aftermath of his attempt she takes him into her home with her husband, played by Luke Wilson. Together, the siblings attempt to figure out where things have gone wrong in their lives and explore the scars of their childhood and how those past experiences have impacted their present situation. The Skeleton Twins deals with some difficult things. Hader’s character confronts abuse from his childhood and Wiig’s marriage is a sham but not due to malice on anybody’s part. A lot of movies about midlife crises probe the malaise of domesticity and dreams that have sputtered out and The Skeleton Twins does that better than most. What is impressive about this particular film is the compassion that the filmmakers have for their characters. Watching white middle class people whine about their lives can easily become insufferable but this works in The Skeleton Twins because the filmmakers and the lead actors create empathy for these characters.

What Doesn’t: The tone of The Skeleton Twins shifts quite a bit throughout the movie. Generally we want that from stories; films that have an irrepressible and uninterrupted tenor can become monotonous. However, the tone of The Skeleton Twins tends to spike toward comedy or tragedy and as a result the film sometimes has a manipulative feel. As viewers, we go to stories to have our emotions moved but we also don’t want to see the storytelling mechanics at play in the same way we don’t want to see the mechanisms of a magician’s trick; that spoils the illusion. The Skeleton Twins has some plot turns and character moments that are a bit forced. This is partly the result of choices made by the screenwriter but it is also a result of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig’s performances. As comedians, both of these actors (but especially Wiig) tend to turn their antics up to eleven when they are straining for a laugh and that habit strikes again in some of the dramatic scenes in The Skeleton Twins. Hader and Wiig also have a tendency to be quirky. That quality generally works for them in this movie; it sells the illusion that these two are siblings who only really have each other in the world. But there are moments in The Skeleton Twins in which that quirkiness becomes self-conscious.

DVD extras: Commentary tracks, featurettes, gag reel, deleted scenes.

Bottom Line: Despite being rough around the edges, The Skeleton Twins has a lot in it that’s impressive. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig expand their skill set with performances that are both comic and dramatic, occasionally at the same time, and their rapport as troubled siblings often overcomes the flaws of the script.

Episode: #535 (March 29, 2015)