Monday, September 29, 2014

The Brother, Sister: “The Skeleton Twins” is an Expertly Acted, Mostly Depressing Drama

“The Skeleton Twins” should come with a disclaimer. Not because it’s bad or anything but because I can imagine people lining up to see the latest Kristen Wiig comedy expecting “Bridesmaids” and getting “Requiem for a Dream” instead. No, no it’s not that bad but the film deals with the tough subject matter of suicide and depression in a realistic way. It’s never exploitative or heavy handed; it just is what it is. It also features two truly dynamic and wonderful performances from its leads Wiig and her former SNL co-star Bill Hader. If you can go into this little indie gem knowing it’s not exactly a barrel of laughs you will be sad, depressed, but ultimately moved by the film’s interesting story and fascinating characters.

Wiig showed a lot of promise of her real dramatic acting chops in “Bridesmaids.” Sure it was a silly comedy, but go back and look at Wiig’s performance again. It’s alive with drama and subtle nuances of a woman completely overwhelmed and depressed. Yeah she’s hilarious, but she also shows dramatic range which is on full display here. Wiig and Hader (also amazing here) are Maggie and Milo, an estranged pair of adult siblings. They’ve had a rough childhood which can be seen in glimpses. After a failed suicide attempt, Milo goes to stay with Maggie in her upstate New York house. Maggie is married to Lance (Luke Wilson) and they have a rather normal and uneventful life. They’re trying to get pregnant though Maggie isn’t quite ready to have children. Milo is gay and lives the life of a struggling actor in LA. The pair hadn’t seen or heard from each other in ten years and we don’t really know why. This dramatic event just may be the catalyst to get their once close relationship working again.

It’s obvious that Milo and Maggie have a strong connection. We eventually get filled in on their childhood and upbringing. And suicide and depression tend to run in their family. It doesn’t help that they’re mother is basically MIA and was apparently too busy to attend her own daughter’s wedding. These are really sad people. It’s sort of hard to watch. They’re not happy with their lives even if they seem to have things sorted out for the most part. They both sort of think ending it all is the only option for both of them. But they need each other and that is where the true heart of the film lies.

Wiig and Hader have some of the most exquisite chemistry I have ever witnessed in a film. And why shouldn’t they? They’re obviously good friends from their tenure on Saturday Night Live and most likely know each other very well. They’re practically siblings and it comes across magnificently onscreen. Director Craig Johnson, who co-wrote the script with Mark Heyman, has weaved an interesting story for these two fully realized people. The script slowly reveals elements of these sibling’s pasts and we’re filled in on the events that lead them to their current states. The directing is fluid and realistic and the themes are throughout and work (it helps that the sometimes dark story is also set around Halloween).

This is a film that I can certainly recommend if you’re in the mood for something with heavy and dark subject matter. While the characters’ eventual connection is what really lifts this out of depressing territory, the film is rather morose - though with some well-timed bits of solid comic relief. It isn’t what I’d exactly call a feel-good film though when it comes down to it it’s ultimately uplifting. If you want to see another side to two of our best comedic actors working today you’re certainly in for a treat. If you’re expecting a raunchy comedy then you’ll certainly feel tricked.  GRADE: B+ 

Trailer for The Skeleton Twins on TrailerAddict.