Sunday, October 05, 2014

The Skeleton Twins


The Skeleton Twins is a closely observed family drama for adults that feels like it must have fallen through a time warp from the 1990's, a time when such things could still be found at movie theaters with some regularity. The film, directed by Craig Johnson, probably wouldn't have been made at all without the post-Bridesmaids influence of its star Kristen Wiig. Wiig plays Maggie, an unhappy wife in upstate New York whose is contemplating suicide just at the moment she learns her estranged brother (Bill Hader) has tried to take his own life in Los Angeles. Maggie brings Milo, a gay actor without an agent, back home to New York and the guest bedroom of the house she shares with her husband Lance (Luke Wilson). Maggie and Lance are still living in the town where Maggie and Milo grew up, and as the siblings return to old patterns The Skeleton Twins winds up being a well-done story of reconnection and acceptance.

Kristen Wiig's performance as Maggie is a continuation of Wiig's exploration of unhappiness. Even in Bridesmaids Wiig's character behaved out of a half-understood disappointment, and in other other film roles (including this) Wiig seems drawn to women whose lives are incomplete or unsuccessful. In The Skeleton Twins Wiig turns mannerisms that could be comic into expressions of her own frustration at her inability to understand herself. Why does Maggie not share Lance's desire for children, to the point that she covertly takes birth control? Why does she sleep with her scuba diving teacher (Boyd Holbrook)? There's an explanation in the script, which Craig Johnson wrote with Mark Heyman, but pleasure of the film is watching Wiig's carefully worked out journey to Maggie's bottom and the beginning of her climb back. Bill Hader is good in a less complicated part, the reasons for Milo's depression are much clearer and there's a plot about an older ex-lover (Ty Burrell) that goes in circles. There's some humor in Hader's awkwardness in their small town's gay bar and a lip-sync sequence that might have been made just to fill out the film's trailer, but the rawness of the final, secret-spilling argument is the place The Skeleton Twins is trying to get to and it does so very well. The Skeleton Twins offers a simple recipe for how a small-budget drama can get attention: address adult concerns through the lives of well-written, unfamiliar characters, and hope that someone from Bridesmaids likes the script. I'll settle for more movies that get even part of that list right.

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