Review: 'The Skeleton Twins' is a sad dramedy for Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader
Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader play depressed twins in "The Skeleton Twins," a dramedy that keeps distracting itself from the deep pain it depicts.
‘The Skeleton Twins’
Director: Craig Johnson
Stars: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader
2 (out of 5) Globes
“The Skeleton Twins” opens with the failed double suicide of twins Maggie (Kristen Wiig) and Milo (Bill Hader), and later involves adultery, unwanted pregnancy, statutory rape and general mid-life failure. It’s understandable that it’s at least partly a comedy. There’s a Bergman-level of heaviness to the proceedings that perhaps needs to be undercut by lead actors who can play sarcastic as well as self-pitying, plus jokes about “Growing Pains” ringtones (which goes off while she holds a fistful of pills).
A joke-less, sarcasm-free version of “The Skeleton Twins” might be too much of a downer. But the one with jokes and sarcasm too often seems like it’s unwilling to go down the rabbit holes it itself has dug. Or perhaps it just needs better jokes and sarcasm.
The story observes the reunion of its siblings, who haven’t spoken in a decade. Milo is a Los Angeles actor who’s never even scored an agent. Maggie has married the relentlessly chipper Lance (Luke Wilson), who’s so oblivious he doesn’t notice his wife is relentlessly dour. Maggie invites Milo to stay with them in the New York State town in which they grew up, and the meandering plotting allows the tone to swing between funny-dark and dark-dark. (Speaking of which, this is one underlit, hazy film. Some of it looks like it was shot with gauze on the lens, as some Hollywood actresses were photographed in the 1930s. It hurts to look at it.) She starts a fling with her tatted-up scuba instructor (Boyd Holbrook) — evidently only her most recent cheat. He tries to reconnect with the lover (Ty Burrell) he had at 16, who just happened to be his English teacher.
Sometimes there are sour one-liners; other times Maggie and Milo descend into deep despair, as when Milo launches into a long monologue about how he always expected, as a teenage outcast, to tower above those who bullied him. Instead, the bullies are happily married with kids and he has bandages around his wrists.
“The Skeleton Twins” doesn’t sugarcoat either of its protagonists; they’re by strokes unsympathetic and pitiable. But it never gets beyond lack of sympathy and pity. Despite some fine performances — although Wiig finds few new shades in what’s becoming her depressive schtick — it’s a drama that’s afraid of what it has. The humor becomes less about mirroring characters who don’t want to deal with their problems and more about filmmakers who don’t want to get too deep. Its bravery is a put-on; it’s as scared of dealing with trauma as its protagonists.
And so it keeps retreating: to sour jokes, some of them amusing, some lame; to dumb one-note supporting characters, like their evil New Age mom (Joanna Gleason); and to more traditionally “SNL”-level Wiig-Hader shtick, like a YouTube-ready interlude where they lip synch/frug to Starship. It gets good mileage out of Wilson — who’s more energetic than he’s been in most of his movies put together — but has no clue what to do with the subplot where Milo longs for the pedo who took his virginity. An attempted heartwarming ending — if one that ignores the considerable wreckage its heroes have left in their wake — confirms its shallowness. Worst of all, it stupidly ruins a perfectly decent “Marley & Me” joke.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge