- on Friday, 19 September 2014 16:23
- by Frank Wilkins
SNL alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader reteam for Craig Johnson’s The Skeleton Twins, a meaty little love story with sibling rivalry and family dysfunction as its central themes.
You’d be forgiven for expecting this to be a riotous comedy. After all, it does star one of the funniest women on the planet as well as an actor with proven comedic instincts. But, while it does feature plenty of laughable elements (albeit mostly black humor), it’s more about the real-life drama inherent within the bittersweet dynamic of the sibling bond. In other words, yes, The Skeleton Twins is funny, but more importantly, it’s real. Sometimes painfully real.
Dental hygienist Maggie (Wiig) and frustrated actor/waiter brother Milo (Hader) haven’t spoken in a decade and live on opposite sides of the country. Once inseparable, the siblings grew apart after their teen years when the family was stricken by their father’s sudden death. But they’re soon reunited when Maggie’s attempt to down a handful of sleeping pills is interrupted by her brother’s call from the hospital where he is recovering from having slit his wrists. Milo accepts his sister’s offer to return to their hometown in upstate New York where she lives with “nice guy” husband Lance (Luke Wilson).
Once together in Maggie’s house, the siblings quickly get back to their childhood shenanigans like goofing off with the nitrous oxide tank at her dental office or doing silly impromptu lip-synch dances to Starships Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now. All seems well, but the pair must eventually face the demons of what sent them off the rails and into a suicidal death spiral in the first place. The longer they spend together, the more it becomes evident they really need each other.
Johnson, known in Hollywood circles as one of those directors who sticks very closely to the script, loosened up a bit during filming. Knowing he has a powerhouse comedy duo, he allows Hader and Wiig to riff a bit on their lines. The result is truly remarkable realism as many of the film’s moments are lough-out-loud funny and tear-jerkingly heart crushing… often in the same scene. Finding that perfect balance of comedy and drama – especially in a film that takes on such potent topics – is a difficult task for a filmmaker, but Johnson’s tone is spot on as he perfectly counters every scene of near-pathetic despondency with just the right amount of levity.
Credit must also be given to Wiig and Hader. They are perfectly matched as the pair of severely wounded birds looking for comfort that can only come from a fellow family member. With few exceptions, comedic actors often struggle when crossing over into drama roles. Though it’s typically more difficult for dramatic actors to transition into comedy, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, and even Adam Sandler have pulled off the feat. Wiig and Hader now join the list as their remarkable chemistry often allows us to overlook some of the script’s shortcomings, namely its uneven use of flashbacks and over-abundant genre tropes.
TY Burrell as Milo’s gay lover from the past and Luke Wilson as Maggie’s well-meaning but childishly doltish husband turn in brilliant performances as well. Joanna Gleason appears as Maggie and Milo’s self-absorbed mother whom we grow to loathe from the first moment we lay eyes on her.
The Skeleton Twins is a superbly written film that touches nearly every human emotion while highlighting career-best performances from an eclectic cast.
MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexuality and drug use.
Runtime: 93 mins
Director: Craig Johnson
Writer: Mark Heyman, Craig Johnson
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Ty Burrell, Luke Wilson
Genre: Comedy | Drama
Tagline: Family is a cruel joke.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Maggie, I know the dog dies. Everyone knows the dog dies. It's the book where the dog dies."
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Official Site: http://skeletontwinsmovie.com/
Release Date: September 12, 2014
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: December 16, 2014.
Synopsis: After many years of estrangement, twins Maggie and Milo lead separate lives on opposite sides of the country. When both feel that they're at the end of their ropes, an unexpected reunion forces them to confront how their lives went so wrong. For Maggie, that means re-examining her marriage to sweet "nature frat boy" Lance and her own self destructive tendencies, while Milo must face the pain of an early heartbreak he never quite got past. As the twins' reunion reinvigorates them both, they realize the key to fixing their lives just may lie in accepting the past and mending their relationship with each other.
Available on Blu-ray - December 16, 2014
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A
Lionsgate’s 2.40:1, 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer looks and sounds fine for a very low-budget film. The look of Reed Morano’s cinematography is deliberately drab, presumably to complement the drab lives and surroundings of its characters. The sometimes dreamy (but mostly) natural look ties in well with the movie. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is solid for what it is. The soundtrack doesn’t need to do much more than present clear dialogue. It may not be much to look at or listen to, but it’s on par with other recent releases of this nature.
- Two commentaries are included, both with writer-director Craig Johnson. For the first he is joined by Wiig and Hader, for the second he is joined by co-writer Mark Heyman and producer Jennifer Lee. Both are solid, but the second one, including a defense of the value of voiceover and thoughts on improvisation, offers solid insight on making a movie.
The extras here are nicely in-depth, and, surprisingly funny, considering the film's darker tone. Craig Johnson also contributes optional commentary to 15 minutes of deleted scenes. There is a making-of featurette that, while brief at 15 minutes, is adequate. The gag reel is a true rarity in that it’s actually very, very funny. There are some additional Outtakes and Deleted Scenes (focused on Wiig and Hader dancing) and is also entertaining. Also in the package is a code for an Ultraviolet stream/download.
- The Making of The Skeleton Twins (15 min)
- Deleted Scenes (16 min)
- Gag Reel (4 min)
- Outtakes (5 min)