Skeleton Twins, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/28/14 23:25:21

"Has a little something on its bones."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2014: "The Skeleton Twins" refers to something which appears within the movie almost entirely so that the title will mean something, much like these indie family dramas with established actors themselves often seem to be in the same sort of self-justification loop. As long as you get good movies out of it, though, there's certainly nothing to complain about, and the folks making this one did all right by it.

The twins in question are Milo (Bill Harder) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig), who haven't seen each other in a decade and reconnect when the hospital calls Maggie about Milo's attempted suicide - a call that reaches her just as she's about to down her own handful of pills. She invites him back to the town where they few up so that he won't be alone, although that let's him reconnect with a lover from when he was young (Ty Burrell), and also meet Maggie's husband Lance (Luke Wilson) for the first time - a marriage Maggie is sabotaging despite Lance being pretty great.

A quick appearance by the twins' mother (Joanna Gleason) helps explain why many of their issues are tied up with their farther, whom we never see clearly. There are other issues in their past that reveal themselves, at least partially, as the film goes on, although there are times when things don't quite seem to line up: There's seldom a sense of the sort of genuine rift between the pair that would have Milo skip Maggie's wedding until the filmmakers need to drop a bomb toward the end, but then the dates don't work. It's not a "hey, wait, that can't work" stretch, especially since it is certainly possible director Craig Johnson and his co-writer Mark Heyman were looking to leave some things unsaid and the general feel works.

Works in large part because Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are on top of their game. Both are best known as comedians, and the filmmakers don't overlook those skills just because of the darker subject matter; this is actually a very funny movie. Wiig and Hader are able to make these characters play as naturally funny people who have always communicated via jokes and play-acting, and while one scene does feel a little too much like them doing a bit, it also demonstrates that Wiig, in particular, can be sneakily expressive while playing a scene straight-faced. She carries an emotional weight around naturally enough that it's easy to underestimate what Hader is doing with a character who is written to be more flamboyant, especially since his darker moments tend to be more concentrated.

There is also an MVP-level supporting performance by Luke Wilson in there; he plays Lance in a low-key, funny way that can come off as sort of insubstantial, but which thankfully instead works to highlight the character's basic decency. He's not the problem, and he's capable enough that Maggie's not abusing his good nature. It's hinted that Ty Burrell's Rich is party of the problem, but Burrell does his part to make a three-dimensional character out of him. There are other enjoyable supporting performances, from Joanna Gleason to Boyd Holbrook.

Things tie together fairly well, too. There's a potential darkness lurking around the clean suburban landscape just waiting to come out, but Johnson and his team don't overdo matters on that front the way many filmmakers do. There's room for things to be funny throughout the film, but comedy never so becomes the dominant force in the film that it feels like a betrayal when things threaten to fall apart. Things may not be seamless, but they are well-balanced.

And that's fine. Festival schedules may be crowded with movies that set out to prove that famously funny people can act too, and while "The Skeleton Twins" doesn't exactly set itself apart from the crowd with its uniquely great story or characters, it's good enough to get to an audience and let Hollywood think of Hader and Wiig four things other than broad comedy.

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