The Skeleton Twins is an independent comedy-drama that opened this weekend in limited release. However, with rave reviews the production will deservedly be going into wide release on September 26. This is one of the best indies to grace the screen this year.
Directed by newcomer Craig Johnson, and written for the screen by Craig Johnson along with Mark Heyman (Black Swan), The Skeleton Twins is the tale of two twins who unsuccessfully attempt to commit suicide on the very same day. Milo (SNL’s Bill Hader) is in Los Angeles and Maggie (SNL’s Kristen Wiig) is in New York. It is actually the news of Milo’s hospitalization that interrupts Maggie from partaking of a handful of pills. After not having talked in 10 years, Maggie flies into Los Angeles to bring Milo back to stay with her and her husband Lance (Luke Wilson).
Once back in New York, Milo attempts to reconnect with a past lover named Rich (Ty Burrell) and goes to work with Lance clearing out forest brush. While it is never clear why Maggie and Milo disconnect, The Skeleton Twins invites the viewers into childhood flashbacks of the two once-close siblings who dress up for Halloween and hold their breath underwater together. Yet, as their path into adulthood develops, their father commits suicide, and the two twins were reared by an emotionally distant mother (Joanna Gleason) whose pretension Maggie can barely stomach.
While the more introverted Maggie is harboring the more animated Milo in her home, her life continues to spiral out of control. She is having marital trouble and appears utterly uncertain of who she is and what her place is in the world.
What The Skeleton Twins does not do is answer too many questions for the viewer. This is not a failure, but a plus for the production. Questions do abound with regard to the fractured psyches of both Maggie and Milo. But too much information would have made for a choppy production. Instead The Skeleton Twins focuses on Maggie and Milo’s rediscovery of each other, as they get high on nitrous oxide together and play true confessions.
Wiig and Hader both deliver solid, believable performances as two deeply flawed human beings who are later fortified via the rediscovery of their sibling bond. It always seems that the best dramatic performances hail from actors who are rooted in comedy. Hader is glowing as Milo. He successfully dominates and steals nearly every scene he graces. That being said, his animation is only matched by Wiig’s muted and stoic presence that marries charmingly and compatibly alongside Hader. Together they could very easy pull off Academy Award nomination nods.
Joanne Gleason’s performance as Maggie and Milo’s self-absorbed mother Judy, is as well Academy Award worthy. Albeit her presence in the film is rather small, it is big enough to garner a supporting role nod.
Luke Wilson is a pleasure to watch as Maggie’s easy-going and agreeable husband Lance, who manages well under Maggie’s idiosyncratic and dysfunctional patterns. Maggie is well aware that Lance is a favorable and stabilizing influence in her life and she seeks to remain grounded via his presence.
Ty Burrell as well, pulls off the multi-dimensional character Rich with precision and polish. Much like everyone else, Rich does not know who he is and in the process, drags others into his disturbing maze of self-conflict.
Director Craig Johnson hits a home run with this production and should prepare himself for a avalanche of scripts in the months to come. The Skeleton Twins is cut at just the right length, 93 minutes. It is not too short and it does not wear out its welcome by the finale. The editing is steady as opposed to choppy, and every character’s performance is delivered with believability. Along with Mark Heyman, the two have developed characters that audiences will find engaging, and scenarios that are believably sobering, as Maggie and Milo ultimately save each other.
The Skeleton Twins does not take itself too seriously and this may be why audiences do not have a problem hanging on to and developing empathy for both Maggie and Milo. Nothing profound transpires that is not followed-up by a touch of whimsy to balance out the drama.
The Skeleton Twins is one of this year’s best indies and well worth the price of admission. It is rated R for adult content and playing in select theaters.
Review by Janet Walters Levite