‘Skeleton Twins’ a powerful dramatic turn for SNL alums

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‘Skeleton Twins’ a powerful dramatic turn for SNL alums

'Skeleton Twins

'Skeleton Twins" a powerful dramatic turn for SNL alums

IMDb

'Skeleton Twins" a powerful dramatic turn for SNL alums

IMDb

IMDb

'Skeleton Twins" a powerful dramatic turn for SNL alums

By Josh Weitzel

Since leaving “Saturday Night Live,” Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig have successfully shifted from television to feature films. Mostly appearing in comedies, neither has had the opportunity to flex his or her dramatic acting muscles. The two get the chance in their new film “The Skeleton Twins,” a touching black comedy about a family that is not afraid to be brutally honest about depression.

Director Craig Johnson introduces Milo (Hader), a struggling, depressed gay actor living in Los Angeles with his wrist-slitting suicide attempt. Similarly, his estranged twin sister Maggie (Wiig), whom he has not spoken with in 10 years, is about to attempt suicide by overdosing on prescription pills. Before she can go through with the act, she receives a call from the hospital about her brother. Maggie takes Milo back to New York City to stay with her and her husband Lance (Luke Wilson) while he recovers. The twins struggle to help each other with their problems and reconcile their differences after years apart. 

Both Hader and Wiig fit beautifully into the darkly funny script written by “Black Swan” scribe Mark Heyman. They have a great dynamic and bring plenty of humor to their characters’ misfortunes. Much of the humor stems from their SNL-born chemistry. Their interactions seem natural, mostly relying on poking fun at each other and making light of their problems. 

The main characters’ struggles with the disorder are subtle throughout the film. Unlike Lance, Maggie is quiet and reserved. She is self-aware enough to realize that she makes poor decisions yet refuses to admit she is unhappy with how she is handling her marital problems. Milo continues to harm himself by drinking heavily and revisiting his old lover and high school teacher, Rich (Ty Burrell), which ultimately causes a rift between the two siblings. Both are horribly self-destructive and refuse to seek help, yet their struggles are what make them sympathetic to one another. Like the condition itself, their depression is not written on their faces but grows organically out of their decisions and dialogue. However, the film leaves secondary characters with little to do. Rich has the potential to be interesting. He is a married man with an adult son, and it becomes clear he is struggling with his sexuality after he sleeps with Milo. This is not explored as deeply as it could have been. 

The controversy surrounding his relationship with a young Milo could be a movie on its own, but it is only brought up in one conversation. Lance is another promising character, but he is overlooked. He is happy-go-lucky about everything, and although Lance does plenty to lighten up the mood and is a good foil to Maggie, it would have been more realistic had the marital conflicts been more deeply examined. 

Maggie and Milo’s 10-year estrangement is never explained in depth. There are no clues, and it is never implied how old they were when they stopped speaking to each other. It would have been much more powerful to have known what caused the rift between the siblings. It plays a part in the exposition, and not having an explanation makes parts of the film and story feel like it is lacking in context. This is particularly true when the two discuss being apart for so many years.  There is very little that is technically special about the film. A few shots of the characters are clever in framing, leaving empty space off to the side of their head, suggesting emotional emptiness. Otherwise, there is not much to admire on a technical level.  

“The Skeleton Twins” is an exceptionally honest tale of a family dealing with depression and the portrayal of the disorder itself is accurate. Very powerful performances, well-constructed characters and light humor adds to the heavy mood against an otherwise tragic story.  

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