As an only child, I am aware that I have the tendency to overly idealize and romanticize the sibling bond. No matter how many friends-with-brothers-and/or-sisters try to set me straight, I just can’t help but dream longingly about the one connection in the world I know I will never have, wondering how totally awesome it must be to have a lifelong bond like that. Of course, everyone with a sibling out there just read that and probably wants to call me up right now and tell me all their brother/sister horror stories and how they would have given ANYTHING to have been an only child.
The grass is always greener.
And that’s the great thing about the new movie The Skeleton Twins. It’s a movie about that sibling bond and it shows both the horrors and what I always imagined to be the ideals of that relationship in a little movie that packs a big emotional wallop but offers enough laughs to make the heartaches worthwhile.
If you see “Saturday Night Live” alums Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids) and Bill Hader are starring in a movie together, it would be easy to assume it’s a comedy. But The Skeleton Twins is far from a comedy. Far, far from. Wiig and Hader play Maggie and Milo, brother and sister—it’s never clearly established that they are actually twins, but we assume so—who have been estranged for 10 years, but Milo goes back to their hometown to stay with Maggie after a failed suicide attempt (be warned, suicide is a common theme in this movie) as they try to mend their relationship. But it becomes quickly apparent that they both have deeper wounds that have not fully healed, even in 10 years, and finding that they only have each other to lean on, then and now, is almost scarier than not having anyone.
It also becomes quickly apparent that these are two very messed up people, born from a very messed up shared history, and watching them relate to each other as that history gets revealed to us in pieces throughout the course of the movie is a compelling dance of human psychology, drama, compassion, empathy, sadness and just a touch of madness.
I went to a screening of the film that featured a post-show Q&A with the writer/director, Craig Johnson, and Wiig and Hader and someone asked “are you concerned about what this movie says about the issue of mood disorders?” It was a completely appropriate question, considering The Skeleton Twins is a movie about two people who are each trying to dig themselves out of an emotional hole so deep, neither can see any way out. Depression is a heavy subject and if the idea of going to a movie to watch people work through their issues is not your idea of a good time, you might want to stay away from this one.
However, what The Skeleton Twins offers is so much more than a cheap night of voyeuristic therapy. I really dig movies like this because those superhero movies can get so boring. Once in a while, I like to see a movie that gives me real people with real flaws who really have no idea what they are doing. Because guess what? This I can relate to. Life is too short to not admit that it’s hard. We’re all just floundering here, let’s all just look at each other once in a while, take a deep breath and admit it. That’s essentially what this movie is about.
AND…it’s about the people who you know will be there for you, whether sometimes you like it or not. In this movie, it happens to be a sibling, but I think we all have one or two of those—those people who know us, love us and accept us, and always will, warts and all.
The Skeleton Twins is far from a perfect movie, it’s got some clichés and it meanders a bit, but overall I dug it, but, then again, I’m a sentimental, emotional sap.
And, as usual, I buried the lead. What’s the real reason to go see The Skeleton Twins? Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. Casting these two as brother and sister was a stroke of genius because the chemistry they have (they are very close friends in real life) shows in every scene. Not only that, but they each individually are incredibly talented dramatic actors as well as what we already know comedically. And yes, there are a few gratuitous comic scenes where they are let off the leash and allowed to give us what we want, and those scenes are gold, but the movie is sustained by their dramatic chops, especially Hader, who shows a warmth and a charm you never knew existed.
All in all, The Skeleton Twins is certainly not for everyone. But, despite being a bit too long, director and co-writer Craig Johnson has created a nice, little indie gem here that features his actors in terrific roles that should propel them to grand post-SNL careers with some legitimacy. Here’s hoping.