Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig have proven themselves to be exceptional comedic talents. They’ve branched out since leaving Saturday Night Live and occasionally appear in a film together. Most notably were their scene-stealing turns as the managers of an amusement park in Greg Mottola’s Adventureland. It shouldn’t be surprising that an enterprising filmmaker would choose the pair to headline their picture. What might be surprising is that The Skeleton Twins isn’t an uproarious comedy, but a somber mix of light and dark subject matter.
Wiig and Hader play estranged siblings Maggie and Milo Dean, who haven’t spoken to each other in over ten years. Milo has moved to Los Angeles where he waits tables while trying to make it as an actor. Meanwhile, Maggie has remained in upstate New York where she works as a dental hygienist and is married to nice guy Lance (Luke Wilson). Both are repositories for all manner of emotional damage.
The Skeleton Twins opens with Maggie about to down a handful of pills. Her suicide attempt is postponed when she receives a call that Milo has been hospitalized after slitting his wrists. Milo reluctantly agrees to stay with Maggie and along the way we find out just how damaged these two are. Their father committed suicide when they were kids and their mother (Joanna Gleason) is no peach. She’s a new age self-help guru who was too busy with an “insight retreat” to attend her own daughter’s wedding. Maggie’s seemingly blissful marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. She’s been secretly taking birth control pills in spite of Lance’s desire to have children and she’s been having an affair with her handsome scuba instructor (Boyd Holbrook). As for Milo, he resumes an obviously doomed relationship with a former high school teacher (Ty Burrell) with whom he had an affair when he was only 15.
The Skeleton Twins was directed by Craig Johnson, who also co-wrote the script with Mark Heyman, one of the writers for “Black Swan.” The movie has all the earmarks for an indie comedy, right down to Mark & Jay Duplass receiving executive producer credit. Johnson relies heavily on the murky imagery of water; a trope that should have been retired after The Graduate did it so well. Johnson never quite nails the nuances necessary to convey the themes of the story. As a result, many scenes are hindered by dialogue right on the nose though that didn’t stop Johnson and Heyman from winning the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance.
Leave it to Hader and Wiig to elevate the material. The SNL alumni effortlessly portray the shorthand communication that comes from siblings due in no small part to their familiarity off-screen. Some of the movie’s best moments are when the two are simply riffing with one another, such as when they goof around after sniffing nitrous oxide or dress in drag for Halloween. Hader and Wiig also make the most of the clichéd bonding session over a kitschy pop tune. In this instance, it’s Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” which goes from insipid to inspired thanks to Hader’s energy in contrast to Wiig’s deadpan facial expressions.
Wiig and Hader aren’t the only winning cast members. Kudos go to a wonderfully understated Ty Burrell and Luke Wilson, who brings all the earnest charm you’ve come to expect from the Wilson clan.
Video/ Audio: 8/10
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The movie was shot on digital and the director chose a look that favored softer focus and natural lighting. The picture is subdued, but the quality is high with nary a blemish to be found.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. This is a dialogue heavy dramedy so the sound is quiet and evenly distributed. Things become a bit more robust when the soundtrack and score by Nathan Larson (“Boys Don’t Cry”) kicks in.
The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary track with Craig Johnson, Bill Hader, and Kristen Wiig. Of course, this is a glib track with Hader & Wiig joking fondly about the production and Johnson trying to stay focused. A second track with Johnson, Mark Heyman, and producer/editor Jennifer Lee is a bit more informative and on topic.
To Whom It May Concern: Making The Skeleton Twins (15:14) is your standard behind-the-scenes featurette that goes through developing the script, gathering the cast, and the look of the film.
Rounding out the Blu-ray are a gag reel, outtakes, and deleted scenes with optional commentary by Craig Johnson.
Film Value: 6/10
The Skeleton Twins isn’t an altogether successful film, but the engaging performances by Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are well worth a look. The protagonists find just the right mix of pathos and humor.