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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

The Skeleton Twins movie review: oh brother how art thou?

by MaryAnn Johanson

The Skeleton Twins green light

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.

The Skeleton Twins (2014)
US/Canada release date: Sep 12 2014 | UK release date: Nov 07 2014

MPAA: rated R for language, some sexuality and drug use
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, sex, sex references)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Nina

    I watched this movie online last night. I’ve re-watched the lip-synch duet no less than 27 times since.

  • What is it about that scene? It’s so amazing, and I can’t really figure out why.

  • Nina

    I was going to add that I couldn’t figure out what it was about that scene that stuck with me! It was just so earnest and cute.

  • It’s very powerfully emotional, too. It made me cry.

  • This popped up on Netflix the other night. It was odd. A great character study, to be sure, but with no real story to speak of.
    It’s actually really off-putting how casually suicide is treated here.
    Like it’s an easy out when something doesn’t go your way. I found that
    rather disturbing, but I’m pretty sure that was the point.
    I was impressed by both actors, although Haders gay brother was mostly just a walking talking stereotype.

  • Personally, I can’t stand scenes like the lip synch song thing. For one,
    I can’t stand that song. Secondly, they are an even bigger reminder
    that I’m watching actors in a movie. I get pulled out of the “reality”
    of the movie to see people faking being someone, faking singing as well.
    It just doesn’t work for me. I cringe.

  • Bluejay

    I just looked up the scene you’re talking about, and I’m sold. Putting it at the top of my Netflix queue now. :-)

  • Bluejay

    I have the opposite reaction. No judgment on yours, of course. :-) I think deliberate, overt, goofy lip syncing is a joy.

    Couple videos, just because:



  • Bluejay

    And there’s the Agents of SHIELD/Agent Carter dubsmash war:


  • Nope. Won’t watch them. I haven’t clicked on any of those Jimmy Fallon Lip Sync videos because I cringe. I think part of it is that I’m so introverted and can’t imagine ever doing something like that. The amount of moxy(?) it takes to go in front of people and enthusiastically make a fool of yourself is something I can’t fathom. Maybe I’m inherently jealous? I don’t really know. And why does lip syncing bother me so much, and not the real thing? Not sure. But it does, and that’s that. haha.

  • Danielm80
  • Bluejay

    Nina Paley is brilliant. I’m looking forward to whenever she completes Seder-Masochism.

  • Bluejay

    The amount of moxy(?) it takes to go in front of people and enthusiastically make a fool of yourself is something I can’t fathom.

    I think the trick is to not take yourself so seriously and to realize that the audience is a supportive one; they’re laughing good-naturedly WITH you, not jeeringly AT you.

    Lip-syncing has gotten a bad rap since Milli Vanilli, as something intended to deceive people. Open, goofy lip-syncing is a different beast. And deliberately BAD lip-syncing can make things like political debates quite entertaining.


  • Well, that was…amusing. I don’t have a problem with comedic stuff like this, or even that Nina link below. that uses footage and has fun with it.

    It’s purely the pseudosincere actor/actress lip syncing some bad pop/whatever song that makes me hit mute or fast forward as fast as I can.

  • The character may have thought it was “easy,” but I think the story is all about him changing his mind about that.

    There’s tons of story here, but it’s mostly internal. Which often doesn’t work on film, but I think it does here.

  • Oh, but that scene is so vital — and so moving — because it’s all about the siblings rediscovering their old connection.

  • I understand why it’s vital for the characters. I just don’t like it, and it’s hard to explain why. I got zero emotional anything from the scene. I wasn’t even comfortable watching it.
    I simply think that it’s most likely a deeply ingrained personal thing on my part. Pretty weird, admittedly.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    This is beautiful. It almost makes me like Chloe Bennett. >.>

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