"Well at least she's sending us the light."
Arguably the two best, most versatile talents to come out of the post-Will Ferrell SNL era are Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. They are perhaps the best one-two combination since Bill Murray and Gilda Radner, and their rapport with one another is almost preternatural. That made the prospect of seeing these two dive into heady subject matter in their first starring vehicle together since leaving the show all the more appealing. The Skeleton Twins is an interesting little film that will certainly afford an audience who has only seen these two goof around with one another to see them in a different light.
Maggie (Wiig) and Milo (Hader) are twins that have not seen each other in a decade. When the film opens, Maggie is preparing to off herself by consuming a large quantity of pills, but her suicide attempt is delayed when she receives word that Milo has just been hospitalized for also attempting to take his own life. Maggie invites Milo to come and stay with her in their old hometown of Nyack, NY, where Maggie now lives with her gregarious husband Lance (Luke Wilson). Milo reconnects with an old flame (Ty Burrell), though their past together remains shrouded in mystery for most of the film, and Milo also manages to get Maggie to open up to him about her various extramarital dalliances. But the secrets Milo continues to keep from Maggie, coupled with the meddling he begins doing in her life with Lance may doom their renewed relationship.
Perhaps the most successful thing about The Skeleton Twins is the fact that it never shies away from being morose. It deftly balances comedy and tragedy, but always errs on the side of the latter, and the core quartet of actors is perfectly up to the challenge. Anyone doubting Bill Hader's acting chops will be pleased to see that he is as capable at drama as he is at comedy. He plays perhaps the most honest and realistic homosexual character in a film in a very long time, and manages to wring ethos out of every line delivery and mannerism. It is a gift of a role for this seriously talented actor, and one that will hopefully land him more thought provoking work in the future.
Wiig also does very good work, though her character is harder to empathize with, making it the more challenging role simply by virtue of that fact. Their scenes together are the best in the film, and whenever Wiig is onscreen without Hader, she seems to struggle to find an identity. This is basically the long-winded way of saying that she's been better in other things. Wilson is terrific, and proves how under-utilized he is these days, and Burrell puts on a master class of playing a manipulative and selfish man that has yet to learn any lessons from his mistakes.
Where the film flounders is in the heavy-handed symbolism laded on with reckless abandon by sophomore director Craig Johnson. His use of water as a constant symbol of isolation and despair is played out even before the opening title, and it only gets worse from there. The character work being done by these four terrific actors is constantly undermined by a director trying to showcase his visual flair, and it frankly bogs the entire film down. He is certainly done no favors by the cliche heavy script he penned with Black Swan scribe Mark Heyman, but it feels as if the finished script was a leaden rewrite of another, better, tighter script. It also bears several of the worst hallmarks of its producing team, Mark and Jay Duplass, whose mumblecore movies traffic in maudlin sentiment.
The film thankfully doesn't overstay its welcome, clocking in just north of ninety minutes, but it ultimately feels like a great character study weighed down by a director looking to put together a sizzle reel of flashy directorial tricks. It's not a bad movie, but it certainly has the air of having been hijacked by a director looking to show off. If anything, it's a major league coming out party for Bill Hader, who does the best work of his still young career. It's not a film for everyone, but it's filled with enough small moments that are likely to land for audience members from all walks of life. It's just disappointing to see such great work being undercut by a director and producers who tried to bend it to their will. There's a great movie buried in here somewhere. If only they had hired a director who could've mined that greatness rather than obscuring it.
GO Rating: 2.5/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]