In Craig Johnson’s “The Skeleton Twins,” SNL alumni Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig get their shot at playing dramatic roles, as Milo and Maggie. Two basket-case twins that haven’t seen each other in ten years. They used to be close but a family tragedy violently took away their innocence when they were in their early teens. So they started down their different self-destructive paths. “The Skeleton Twins” is a gloomy movie. Very gloomy indeed. There are not one, but three instances of attempted suicide. Thankfully the performances from Wiig and Hader—and a few supporting players—make the picture worthwhile and Johnson knows to inject humor into the mix to ease some of the melancholy.
The movie begins with both siblings attempting suicide but Milo—who is also gay—is the more screwed up of the two. So before Maggie can drown herself in pills and liquor she gets a call from the hospital about her brother, who’s since moved to L.A. and become a struggling actor. For a change of pace, Maggie brings Milo back with her to their hometown in upstate New York to live with her and her husband Lance (Luke Wilson, when was the last time he was in a movie and not a cell phone commercial?). Anytime attempted suicide is involved—especially when it’s the inciting incident—there’s always a large amount of uneasiness and embarrassment between the characters. The first few interactions between them are awkward, as Maggie tries to reconnect with Milo and he hides behind a defensive wall of sarcasm, both trying to side step the issue.
Before long that awkwardness dissolves and they start going at each other’s throats. “The Skeleton Twins” can best be described as: two dysfunctional siblings telling one another how to live when neither is even remotely qualified to give such advice. Maggie accuses Milo of being a child—which is kind of true—and berates him about getting his act straight. Meanwhile she’s cheated on Lance with four other guys. Most of the time this can be entertaining to watch, I’m a sucker for a good movie argument, especially when it makes you feel awkward and uneasy as well. Plus that’s fifty percent of what siblings do anyways.
Hader plays the role of Milo with flamboyance and sass but he never goes too over-the-top with it. Milo is a real person, not a gay stereotype and Hader does a fantastic job of bringing the viewer into Milo’s psyche, letting us experience right along with him the great amount of pain he’s suffering. Not only that, Hader doesn’t let Milo’s homosexuality completely define who he is, in fact you don’t notice it after a while. As good as Hader is though, Wiig is even better and she has the more difficult role to play. Where Milo is more outwardly reckless and self destructive, Maggie is more inwardly reckless and self-destructive. By getting married and taking a mundane, routine job as a dental hygienist Maggie is trying to live a normal, stable life and tries to convince herself that she’s happy when she isn’t. For a majority of the movie she puts on a happy face, masking her unhappiness and shame.
Wilson is also very good as Maggie’s benevolent, supportive husband and I appreciated that Johnson didn’t turn him into the bad guy. Lance isn’t ignorant, or homophobic, he isn’t a workaholic jerk—what an overused supporting character!-- who treats Maggie poorly. In fact he makes more of an effort to bond with Milo initially than Maggie and puts up with Milo’s snippiness. Overall, there’s nothing really wrong with Lance—other than perhaps living in his own world a little too often and not being aware of Maggie’s depression-- instead it’s Maggie who’s the mess. Lance doesn’t deserve to be cheated on.
However, it’s when Johnson also allows Hader and Wiig to utilize their playful, comedic sensibilities does “The Skeleton Twins” really excel. It’s only natural for some comedy to come out of drama; when times are bad you’ve got to find some way to make the best of it, have a laugh once in a while. Not only that, it shows progression and growth in the characters and story. Maggie and Milo do an awful lot of moping around and to see them ease up and have fun together shows progress. Shows that there’s still life inside of them and that they’re still capable of getting close again. In one of the best scenes—when they get high on laughing gas at Maggie’s work—they display a strong sense of intimacy and affection towards each other, a sense of intimacy they haven’t felt in ten years.