The Skeleton Twins is the second feature release from director Craig Johnson, and it tells the tale of a broken brother-and-sister duo seeking solace in each other. Taking place in a beautiful autumn setting during the days leading up to Halloween, the film is a haunting – sometimes funny, sometimes heartwrenching – look at depression and the misguided things people do to find happiness.
Milo (Bill Hader) is an aspiring actor coming off a recent breakup with his male partner and attempts to take his own life. Unbeknownst to him, across the country his sister Maggie (Kristen Wiig) is also struggling with her own demons and attempting to also take her own life, when she gets a call from the hospital where Milo has been admitted. Shaken by the call, Maggie decides to reunite with her brother and brings him home to her small town life to recover.
The chemistry between Hader and Wiig is fantastic and really helps The Skeleton Twins stay afloat in a story that is sometimes a bit hard to watch. The SNL alums both provide breakout dramatic performances that should most certainly generate Oscar buzz, and manage to make you care for these very toxic people.
Hader beautifully portrays the sarcastic and lost Milo with a flamboyant swagger that heart-breakingly disappears in his dramatic vulnerable moments. Wiig brings an unexpectedly subtlety to Maggie, who is trying to pretend she has the perfect life, but is too scarred from events in their family’s past to truly be happy.
It would be easy to just sing Hader and Wiig’s praises, but the supporting cast also turns in phenomenal performances. Ty Burrell (Modern Family) is Milo’s ex-teacher/lover and drops his normal lovable goof persona for a sad confused man, whose world is shaken when Milo comes back to town. Additionally, Luke Wilson is just great as Maggie’s husband Lance, and while he is generally playing to his strengths as a good-looking, naive kind of guy, his role ends up being one of the only truly good people in the film.
Which brings me to one of the few negative thoughts I had about the film – it’s just full of very lost, awful people. It’s a testament to the actors that you don’t hate everyone midway through the film, but thankfully you don’t and still are rooting for them to get themselves back together. The moments when they aren’t destroying everyone around them are sincere, funny and extremely endearing. But you can almost hear the clock ticking to the next major screw-up or bomb drop. The script is quite predictable in that respect, and you can see almost every tragic beat coming ahead of time.
The film has beautiful cinematography that accentuates this melancholy and genuine look at “regular” people that struggle with painful depression. The fall leaves and Halloween masks in the stores are a parallel to Maggie and Milo, who feel their lives are fading and hide from it by wearing their own masks.
The Skeleton Twins certainly isn’t what you would expect from the comedic talent in the cast and that’s a very good thing for the movie, and their careers. It’s a film that punches you in the gut, but also has the power to warm your heart in the right moments, and I think that was point.