It would probably be easy to write off The Skeleton Twins as just some more indie tripe for the modern hipster audience, with comedic actors taking unexpected dramatic turns and tackling a dark script with a central theme of suicide. And at a surface level, that’s a valid criticism, because that is precisely what the film actually is. However, that doesn’t change the fact that this is a pretty damn good film, home to some really great performances by the eponymous leads, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. Their chemistry elevates this film above its trite plotting and they make a compelling character study for a couple of troubled thirty-somethings.
The opening scene of the film shows Milo (Bill Hader) about to attempt suicide. We then cut to his twin sister Maggie (Kristen Wiig) receiving a phone call from the hospital, informing her of the attempt. She goes to visit him in the hospital, and there is an apparent rift between them, which we soon learn is because they haven’t spoken in about a decade. Maggie invites Milo to come stay with her and her husband for a while until he gets back on his feet, and Milo agrees. As Milo begins to relive some dark parts of his past, it becomes clear that Maggie doesn’t quite have the perfect life she claims.
The way the film is written, there’s always a measure of intrigue to how Milo and Maggie interact. They clearly have a troubled history, but it isn’t until late in the film that it’s revealed just what their issues are. On top of that, though, the twins start to discover what’s going on in each other’s lives, things that they hide from everyone else. If there’s one thing this script does damn well, it makes you invested in finding out more about these characters, and that is only strengthened by the lead performances. Hader’s Milo is constantly dodging serious discussions with an acerbic and inappropriate sense of wit, and Wiig’s Maggie is only barely holding together the façade of actual happiness. The only time the two characters seem truly happy are in a few moments where the duo’s comedic tendencies shine through and it’s clear that they really do love each other, something that is probably only achieved through the real friendship Hader and Wiig share. The fact that they’ve translated that goofy friendship into a couple of tragic characters is something truly worth seeing.
However, I wasn’t kidding when I said that the film could be a bit trite at times. It constantly reminds us that Milo and Maggie are in fact twins through some wholly unnecessary flashbacks to the pair as young children. It’s hokey and mostly unnecessary. Furthermore, the film is so intent on establishing the twins’ relationship as the primary narrative focus that when the credits roll at least one major plot thread (and potentially a few minor ones) are left dangling in the wind, never to receive resolution.
Those minor faults aside, though, The Skeleton Twins is a great dramedy. It knows when to be funny, when to hit hard, and how to do so in effective and intriguing ways. Sure, the screenplay has its faults, but those are made up for with fantastic performances from two very gifted actors, both of whom display more range than I would have expected from either of them. Give this one a look, and prepare to not be disappointed.