‘The Skeleton Twins’ Review: Let ‘Em Say We’re Crazy

The title The Skeleton Twins is either an incredibly deep metaphor or a little misleading lark. Come to think of it, it may be aiming for both. Director and co-writer Craig Johnson’s breezy character-driven drama likes to play at greater significance but no matter how much melodrama he heaps upon the title characters, as played by Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, they’re just too funny and likable to leave The Skeleton Twins feeling like anything more than an affable comedy masquerading as a serious treatise on, well, anything really, but mostly suicide.

Bill Hader plays Milo, a gay out of work actor who in the film’s opening scene attempts suicide. Kristen Wiig plays his twin sister, Maggie, who was coincidentally about to swallow handful of pills when the phone call from Milo’s hospital stops her. The situation reunites the once-close siblings for the first time in a decade, and before long Milo has agreed to move in with Maggie and her too-perfect husband Lance, played by a too-perfectly cast Luke Wilson.

Plotwise, that’s all for The Skeleton Twins. It’s a rather straightforward dramedy of getting the hero’s lives in order, facing their fears, unloading their baggage and lip-synching to their favorite pop ballads. (Conspicuously absent: hairbrushes standing in for microphones.) The Skeleton Twins is not a film of heavy incident or overpowering odds. Maggie struggles with fidelity and feeling unworthy of a husband who, by all rights, should be perfect for her or just about anybody else. Milo confronts an old boyfriend, played by Ty Burrell, who is uncomfortable with his homosexuality and specifically his relationship with Milo, his former student.

For a story set in motion by suicide, Craig Johnson’s film seems oddly content not to address the issue directly. Milo and Maggie’s father committed suicide years earlier for reasons they can only speculate, and perhaps his sudden, tragic departure instilled in his kids the idea that if life gets a little unwieldy, or downright difficult, there’s an easy way out. The Skeleton Twins sets in motion a series of events both comical and bittersweet that elicit empathy for Maggie, Milo and even Lance, but it’s difficult to shake the sense that these characters are doing everything possible to avoid a collision course with responsibility and genuine connection with their loved ones.

For that unremarkable flaw, we like them, and Wiig and Hader are both hilarious and genuine performers who instill their characters with charming realism, but their meanderings are a little too contrived to make Johnson’s heavy finale play like a fitting culmination of their life stories, at least on camera. The Skeleton Twins concludes the way it does out of a Chekhovian commitment to resolving Maggie and Milo’s introductions, not necessarily because it feels apt or honest. Neither cheers nor tears emerged from my face as The Skeleton Twins ended. Instead, I simply bid these likable, relatable heroes a fond farewell and wished them the best. Which is fine by me, but that’s not what it looks for all the world like Craig Johnson was going for.

Whatever. If this is their lives, I can take it. I can laugh, I can even give them my heart for an hour and a half, but I can’t quite convince myself that their tale has any more to offer than a brief, grounded, entertaining comedy with a few rich characters, a few thin ones and some unachieved ambitions.

[Editor’s Note: This review was originally published during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. The author’s opinions have not changed.]

William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and the host of The B-Movies Podcast and The Blue Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.