The Skeleton Twins
by Hope Madden
I once trapped myself down my vacationing neighbors’ basement, having let myself in to snoop around and then snagging my hair inside a piece of exercise equipment. The other neighborhood rugrats who’d accompanied me on this B&E left me there to die. But my twin sister marched next door to our dad and said, “Come with me. Bring your tools.”
Why? Because twins have each other’s backs. We have no choice.
That nugget of wisdom and others – like the healing power of Halloween costumes and terrible 80s pop songs – fuel the surprisingly intimate and articulate indie flick The Skeleton Twins.
Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader co-star as estranged twins reunited under tough circumstances. Their strained relationship slowly, sloppily warms as they remember how uniquely and irreversibly bound they are to each other.
The premise has overwrought family dramedy written all over it, and in the wrong hands it could have been August: Osage County or even This Is Where I Leave You. But there’s nothing profound or obvious about Skeleton Twins. It unveils its damage as necessary, tidies up nothing, explains little – so basically, it looks just like family.
This must be partly credited to the writing team of Mark Heyman (Black Swan) and Craig Johnson (who also directs). They refuse to bold face the problems or solutions, preferring instead a more lived-in and recognizable world where pain and emotional need aren’t chalked immediately up to one cause or remedied with one solution. And they don’t judge, which is important because I don’t think these people could withstand that. They’re much too hard on themselves to begin with.
Mainly, though, the success of Skeleton Twins is owed to its leads. Kristin Wiig channels some of the same woebegone tone she used to create her first memorable dramatic character in this year’s Hateship Loveship. Her battle with self-loathing is quietly complicated and deftly crafted.
Bill Hader, though, is the reason to see the film. His turn is filled with vulnerability, humor and wisdom. He gives the human experience of the film its pulse.
Predictably, he and Wiig share obvious chemistry and a great rapport. Luke Wilson’s earnest good guy is the perfect, heartbreakingly goofy offset to the cynical twosome.
There are a lot of laughs here, but the emotion is dark and usually honest. This season will bring us grand strokes of drama aimed at nabbing Oscar, but right this minute, be glad for the intimate little treasures like The Skeleton Twins.
And stay out of your neighbor’s basement.