The Skeleton Twins movie review: oh brother how art thou?
Funny and sad and wise and wonderful… with an absolutely heartbreaking, career-changing performance by Bill Hader.
I’m “biast” (pro):
really like Kristen Wiig
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Oh my god, I love this movie. I love not only the movie itself — it is funny and sad and wise and wonderful — but I love how it snuck up on me and made me fall in love with it out of nowhere. (It’s so rare for me to be this surprised by a film!) I knew nothing about it except that it stars Saturday Night Live alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader… and that’s it. If I assumed anything at all, maybe it was that I was in for some sort of wacky comedy — but I don’t recall even that minimal level of expectation.
But this… I had no idea Bill Hader (They Came Together, Monsters University) had this in him. *picks jaw up off floor again* He is absolutely heartbreaking as Milo, a lonely, depressed Los Angeles guy whose suicide attempt ends up reconnecting him with his estranged twin sister, Maggie (Wiig: How to Train Your Dragon 2, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues). They haven’t spoken in 10 years, but when she invites him to come recuperate with her and her husband, Lance (Luke Wilson: Death at a Funeral, Middle Men), in the upstate New York town where they grew up, he agrees.
Milo’s journey back to some semblance of sanity and acceptance of himself and the disappointments of his life ends up mirroring, in some ways, the screwed-up-ness that Maggie is forced to acknowledge about herself, too. Stories about brother-sister relationships are rare enough — another reason I love this movie — and this one is totally gorgeous, in a biting, mordant way, about how a shared childhood can make siblings the best of friends… as long as you can live with the fact that your best friend knows all your secrets, such as how shitty your childhood was. As the story unravels and deepens at the same time — the deceptively straightforward script is by Black Swan writer Mark Heyman and director Craig Johnson — it becomes very much about both Maggie and Milo, and how their lives and their problems are laden with a family legacy that includes too much abandonment and not enough love. (And in Milo’s case, his return home dredges up a desperate adolescent relationship with an older man [Ty Burrell: Muppets Most Wanted, Mr. Peabody & Sherman] that was ultimately harmful, though it didn’t seem that way at the time to the forsaken kid Milo was.)
I’m not surprised by how insanely good Wiig is here, because we saw her do something similarly bleakly enrapturing in Girl Most Likely. (Kudos too to Wilson: he brings great good humor and surprising depth to his character, who is appropriately likened at one point to “a big Labrador retriever.”) This isn’t as weirdly comedic as Girl: even the occasional bits of silliness, such as when Milo and Maggie perform a nostalgic lip-synch and dance to a pop song, are devastating in the raw emotion they represent. (Oh man, did I sob during the lip-synch!)
But I still can’t get over how astonishing Hader is in this movie. I kinda feel the way I did when another SNL alum, Bill Murray, suddenly revealed himself to be a damn good dramatic actor: there’s a little bit of delicious pop-culture whiplash in that. Is Hader the next Bill Murray? God, I would love for that to be true.