The Skeleton Twins opens with Maggie (Kristen Wiig) and Milo (Bil Hader), twins who live 3,000 miles apart yet who haven't been in contact for ten years (for reasons that are never explained), both attempting suicide. So despite the comedic reputations of these two Saturday Night Live alumni, the film makes no bones – pun intended – about what you're really in for.
As Milo's suicide attempt is slightly more successful than Maggie's, she flies out to Los Angeles to comfort him, then decides to bring him back to the small New York town where they grew up, and where she's living – ostensibly happily (though that first scene puts the lie to this) – with her husband Lance (Luke Wilson, effortlessly bro-like). What follows is basically a "hangout movie" where Maggie and Milo reconnect, open up old wounds, and fret over their uncertain futures.
Above all, The Skeleton Twins is a showcase for Wiig's and Hader's dramatic talents, and their work supports the theory that good comic actors are good actors, period. The screenplay, by director Johnson and Mark Heyman, wisely refuses to give them any "Oscar moment" monologues – despite their snappy patter, Maggie and Milo are often at a loss for the right words – and that's refreshing. None of the cast, in fact, delivers a false moment. You really get the feeling that these actors have tapped into their characters' souls.
Does it sound like I loved this movie? Not so fast. In fact I had a few problems with it.
For starters, there are several long scenes where Wiig and Hader are essentially just goofing around with each other. The idea, I'm sure, is to show the inescapable closeness between these two siblings. But watching them lip-sync through nearly all three minutes of Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" feels like an eternity. In fact, when I saw this scene in the trailer, I almost decided not to catch the film at all. There are other moments like this which feel like padding, as Johnson and Heyman frankly don't have much story to tell.
The Skeleton Twins also suffers from "Sundance-itis", packed with many of the tropes that seem to be prerequisites for festival selection. You've got the dead family member, the unloving parent, substance abuse, a closeted gay character, the whole suicide bit of course, and even the ol' child abuse angle. Maggie and Milo do a lot of rotten things, but Wiig and Hader are appealing enough on their own to make us like them. We don't need to be told, "If these two people are screwed up, it's really all the fault of their selfish parents and authority figures." I'm done with that storytelling cliche. Done, I tell you.
If you're still blaming your unhappy childhood for all your problems, then perhaps you'll dig The Skeleton Twins more than I did. I still enjoyed it, mainly for its flawless performances, but it's not unmissable, and it's not something I will likely ever watch again.