There’s a moment in Craig Johnson’s The Skeleton Twins that will have you smiling so wide that your face will hurt. It’s this ability to make the moviegoer feel such joy that makes this film as good as it is. It causes you to love the characters, laugh with the characters and experience their pain throughout every moment of their journey. With the never better Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig at the helm of the film, The Skeleton Twins is comedy, drama and familial love wrapped up in the duo’s warm and believable chemistry.
Milo (Hader) and Maggie (Wiig) are forced back together after years of not speaking when Milo is hospitalized after an attempted suicide. Maggie brings him back to New York to the same town where they grew up, and it’s from there that people filter in and out of their lives – people whom they love as well as resent, as well as those who hold special if troubling places in their hearts. There’s Lance (Luke Wilson), Maggie’s earnest but dull husband, and then her attractive scuba diving instructor who she’s sleeping with. There’s Rick (Ty Burrell), a man from Milo’s past who isn’t too happy to see him. Then there’s their absentee mother who drops in, stirs up old pain, and then leaves again.
The integral characters, however, are Milo and Maggie, and the movie is never better than when Hader and Wiig are sharing a scene, whether it is comedic in nature or dramatic. Hader’s scenes with Burrell are strong but uncomfortable due to us seeing Rick for who he is, not the man Milo has built him up to be. Similarly with Wilson’s Lance, we understand Maggie’s frustration with him, despite his outward personality being nothing but kind and generous. She needs something more and he isn’t it. However, we don’t condone her cheating because it’s hurting her, too.
The familiarity that Hader and Wiig share with each another is electric onscreen. While separately they deliver, it’s together where they shine. Together they get high on nitrous and confess secrets; they give a movie-stealing karaoke performance; and they enjoy Halloween festivities that make them feel young and alive. It’s also together when they share unwelcome truths and remember moments of pain that have left scars. There is an authenticity to their relationship; we buy the shared history and we buy that they have the ability to lift each other up as well as tear each other down effortlessly. They’re siblings – they love each other but they know how to work that last nerve.
The film is shot as if looking for placement on a postcard. Everything is lush and vibrant when it comes to the countryside and landscape shots.
The film falters when it tries to tidy everything up too neatly. Everything needs a bow; every storyline needs closure or a moment to wrap it up, yet this is a film that could have easily gotten away with some loose ends. These are damaged characters; they’re depressed and require time to heal. It would make sense for us to be wondering what’s next for them. If I were to nitpick, Johnson could work on his transitions as well. The cuts are severe and oftentimes toss us into the next scene without any real pause.
That and some cliché usages of humor are the only real shortcomings, unless it simply isn’t your type of film. It’s an obvious Sundance styled movie, heavy on atmosphere and grainy cinematography, voiceover intros and characters who are oddballs, but it’s a style that works beautifully here. I believe that Milo and Maggie were a little weird growing up, and I believe they were made more so after significant moments in their childhood. The autumnal, Halloween mood, meanwhile, helps elevate a film reliant on feeling, while the grainy camerawork gives way to some naturally captured characters who look and act like real siblings rather than movie stars playing roles.
I left this film smiling, and despite the oftentimes melancholy tone of the film, I spent much of it doing the same. This film gets people; that’s it, really. It’s not always such an easy feat, as often in film we see either the worst of humans or the best. It’s nice to see a film meet in the middle with its characters. It didn’t have to dig very deep, but it just gets relationships, and Hader and Wiig do beautiful work bringing these real, bruised, and slightly broken people to life with such vibrancy that you can’t help but fall for them. I’d like to be in their company.
The Skeleton Twins is out in limited release September 12th and out everywhere September 19th.