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The Skeleton Twins fleshes out dysfunction 

Rating: ***

THE SKELETON TWINS
***
DIRECTED BY Craig Johnson
STARS Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in The Skeleton Twins (Photo: Roadside Attractions)
  • Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in The Skeleton Twins (Photo: Roadside Attractions)

Oh, look, another movie about family dysfunction, a subject Hollywood filmmakers find as addictive as crack cocaine. After the recent train wreck that was This Is Where I Leave You, filmgoers might be understandably wary of hanging out with more folks who seem as defined by their inbred squabbling as by anything else. Yet The Skeleton Twins offers its fair share of pleasures, not least being the central work by two Saturday Night Live alumni.

Although they were close while growing up, twins Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) haven't seen each other in a decade, a situation that changes when Milo's failed suicide attempt (via slit wrists) brings his sister to his bedside. For her part, Maggie was contemplating suicide (via pill overdose) right when she got the hospital call, so clearly here are two people pretty miserable in their lives. Their parental units are no help: Mom (Joanna Gleason) is a self-absorbed, New Age flake, while Dad — well, wouldn't you know it, he committed suicide (via jumping off a tall building) many years ago.

Initially, Milo seems the more unfortunate of the pair: A homosexual whose attempts at making it as an actor in L.A. have failed, he's also just broken up with his boyfriend. He's invited back east by Maggie to stay with her for a spell — she professes to be more stable, in that at least she has a significant other in the form of her husband, a perpetually chipper guy named Lance (Luke Wilson, delivering one of his best performances). But the longer Milo stays, the clearer it becomes that his sibling matches him step for step when it comes to being a mental and emotional mess.

Wiig and Hader are primarily known as comedians, and certainly, the script (an award winner at Sundance) by director Craig Johnson and co-writer Mark Heyman contains plenty of humor. But it's almost all of the tar-black variety, particularly in the biting asides Milo is spouting every few minutes. Johnson and Heyman aren't afraid to make their two leading characters frequently infuriating and often unlikable, and yet because they're so recognizably flawed, it only endears them to viewers even more. Acceptance of these sad sacks is accentuated even further by the presence of Hader and Wiig, who tease out the weighty melancholy that dogs their characters' every move. Wiig has been allowed to strut her stuff in major movie roles before (primarily Bridesmaids), so the surprise is Hader, who's usually cast in small parts but here ably demonstrates that he can carry a heavy load. Even when the picture slightly loses our trust with an unlikely climax, our faith in its two stars is never shaken.

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The Skeleton Twins
Rated R · 88 min. · 2014
Official Site: skeletontwinsmovie.com
Director: Craig Johnson
Writer: Mark Heyman and Craig Johnson
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Ty Burrell, Luke Wilson, Boyd Holbrook, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Joanna Gleason, Ian Hyland and Jennifer Lafleur

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