Few movies today can muster as much as a chuckle from today’s demanding audiences. And even less of those films are about suicide – successful or attempted. But The Skeleton Twins manages to be equal parts hilarious and heartwarming and is one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.
A tale of estranged siblings struggling to navigate their messed up lives from sophomore director Craig Johnson (True Adolescents), stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as the titular Twins. Their chemistry, developed over years at Saturday Night Live, is the film’s strongest asset and Johnson knows that. He expertly wrangles the audience into the lives of his two protagonists, and despite their many flaws has you rooting for their ultimate happiness the whole way through. A feeling that reminded me a lot of the 2006 film, Little Miss Sunshine.
For a film that opens with an attempted suicide, Johnson successfully toes the challenging line between melodrama and comedy. At its core, The Skeleton Twins is rooted in the darkness and uncertainty surrounding suicide and the midlife crisis. But Johnson refuses to let the macabre of such subjects dominate the film, always maintaining a sense of optimism even at its darkest.
Hader is brilliant as the clinically depressed, homosexual, failed Hollywood actor recovering from a halfhearted suicide attempt. When it becomes clear to Hader’s Milo that his sister Maggie needs his help more than he knows, he switches from charity case to a literal shoulder for her to lean on. Two years into her marriage to the loving and energetic Lance, played excellently by Luke Wilson, Maggie finds herself torn between her promiscuous pre-marital lifestyle and starting a family with her not quite boring, but certainly safe, new husband.
Hader and Wiig appear as we have not seen them before, providing an emotionality that is non-existent in their previous works, such as Bridesmaids and Superbad. The heartbreaking honesty that they bring to their respective roles is surprising and never overacted.
Johnson masterfully builds the film as a contrast. The narrative moves along a series of peaks and valleys following the small but talented cast through the ups and downs that are all too familiar. Not to say that the film is lighthearted, because it most certainly is not, but the laughs Hader and Wiig conjure throughout the brief ninety-minute runtime are a welcome relief from the ceaseless intensity of awards season cinema.
Skeleton Twins is out from November 7