As portrayed by Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, in the unexpectedly wonderful, “The Skeleton Twins,” we may be witnessing one of the best brother-sister relationships ever on-screen. Directed by Craig Johnson and written by Johnson and Mark Heyman, “The Skeleton Twins” is about the reconnection of twins just when they need each other the most.
Milo (Bill Hader) is a struggling actor living alone in LA with his goldfish to keep him company. We meet him in his apartment staring at his fish as he prepares, we think, for a bath. But when we see him sitting in the tub and realize the bath water is turning red, we know he’s attempting suicide. The scene then shifts to his sister, Maggie (Kristen Wiig), in her suburban New York home, studying what appears to be a lethal dose of pills in her hand. Just as she is about to swallow them, her phone rings. Half-heartedly she answers, and it’s the hospital in California calling to tell her that her brother is in the hospital following his suicide attempt. Putting the pills aside, Maggie flies off to LA for their reunion. The brother and sister haven’t seen or spoken to one another in more than ten years, so coming together is rough at first. Very hesitantly, the two begin to adjust, relaxing somewhat, and it’s decided that Milo will go back to New York with Maggie to recover physically and emotionally, staying with her and her husband of a few years, Lance (Luke Wilson).
From their discussions and wonderful flashbacks, we realize that Maggie and Milo were once extremely close, so we are at a loss to know what drew them apart. Milo knew he was gay at a very young age and the scenes of a youthful Maggie applying makeup to her brother are heart-warmingly cute. Over time, once the two are in New York, we discover more about the siblings. Although in Lance, Maggie seemingly has the perfect husband, one yearning to start a family with her, we know Maggie is not happy…for reasons she really can’t fully explain. Walking through town, Milo spots a former older friend, Rich (Ty Burrell), in a bookstore, but something is definitely off there, since Rich doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. Then there is the matter of their mother, (Joanna Gleason), who,unbeknownst to Maggie, Milo has invited for a visit and when she appears, brings a lot of tension with her. After a heated confrontation with Maggie, she beats a hasty retreat, leading to a discussion between Maggie and Milo in which we learn their father committed suicide when they were in their teens. And you thought your family had problems!
Although Hader and Wiig are in nearly every scene, when called upon, the film’s supporting cast more than holds its own. Luke Wilson is terrific as the supportive, but clueless husband and brother-in-law who deserves better. Joanna Gleason is very convincing as the selfish, New-Age mother. Finally, Ty Burrell is tremendous as the man leading two lives.
“The Skeleton Twins” is both funny and unbelievably sad at times, and throughout Wiig and Hader handle these varying emotions amazingly. Anyone who saw these two on “Saturday Night Live” knows they are comedically gifted, but their dramatic abilities are the real surprise. With the right roles, both are capable of great things in the future, they are that fantastic.
Wiig has done fine comedic acting in several films, but in “The Skeleton Twins” her work is on a whole other level. What can one say about Hader other than he is completely and utterly fabulous in a nuanced performance. His interactions with all of the main characters are completely different and are spectacular. However, when the film centers on Wiig and Hader together on-screen, “The Skeleton Twins” truly shines…from the delightful, unforgettable lip-syncing and dancing to Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” to their touching revelatory scenes near the movie’s conclusion.
In “The Skeleton Twins” we have actors we thought we knew, but are truly discovering them now.