The Skeleton Twins (2014)
Editor’s Note: The Skeleton Twins opens in limited release this Friday, September 12th.
There are those films in which we go to see the fantastic. Their connection to reality is tenuous at best, reveling in the unbelievable and unknown. On the flipside are those films that are built to thrive on their connection to the real. Living and breathing representations of life, in which the characters act as our surrogates and our proximity to the story is leveraged for maximum connection. However, some of these films are unable to act as true reflections of our experienced world. Falling in between, they are left aimlessly floating, not grandiose enough for abandonment of reality and not genuine enough to cater our own immersion. The Skeleton Twins is trapped in just such a purgatory.
Where Wiig never feels comfortable enough to be considered a fully realized character, Hader acclimates himself remarkably well. He vanishes into the performance and all that is left is Milo.
Milo (Bill Hader) , depressed and drunk, decides that the time has come for him to end his life. With his music blasting, he lowers himself into a warm bath and waits for the end to wash over him. Maggie (Kristen Wiig) sees her life going nowhere and is ready to head into the great beyond. A handful of prescription pills, she is working up the courage when she gets a phone call telling her that her brother has just attempted suicide. Brought together by their sadness, it has been ten years since siblings Milo and Maggie have seen each other. In hopes of helping Milo, and reconnecting after the long separation, Maggie invites him to move back home to stay with her for a bit. Both are broken and trying desperately to reassemble their lives, and their relationship may be the most important place to start.
I’m beginning to think that Kristen Wiig is just not up to the challenge of dramatic acting. Rather than crafting a genuine character and emoting like an actual person, Wiig seems to be of the thought that a forlorn expression amounts to dramatic acting. We have seen this same performance in last year’s Girl Most Likely, and it wasn’t admired then either. It isn’t helping Wiig that her performance is right alongside fellow SNL alum, Bill Hader proving that he has capabilities outside of pure comedy. Where Wiig never feels comfortable enough to be considered a fully realized character, Hader acclimates himself remarkably well. He vanishes into the performance and all that is left is Milo. His delivery is subtle and nuanced, with actions that are always in service of the character rather than an attempt to be dramatic or comedic; this is simply who Milo is. Luckily the two have such great chemistry together. When Wiig isn’t struggling with producing something out of her wheelhouse and she is allowed to just be with Hader, she actually comes alive. Their inherent closeness makes the onscreen relationship work, making the scenes of sibling playfulness all the more engaging.
The script carries with it an acerbic wit that is effectively disarming and genuinely enjoyable. It is unfortunately in service to a structure that leaves a lot to be desired.
Wiig’s penchant for extremes is endemic of the nature of the film itself. Working with little gradation, it carries on like a sufferer of bipolar disorder. Life is a varying mixture of comedy and tragedy, and this film posits to depict this actuality. Nevertheless, it acquiesces to laziness and works on a binary system of either laughs or tears. It renders the characters own actions and emotions alien, as they quickly catapult to different edges of the spectrum, offering little growth or learning along the way. It all suffers because of the weakly developed script.
Implementing a familiar structure that is predictable to a fault, the eventuality of the film’s major plot points creates an atmosphere of poor pacing and monotony. The roundabout proclivities of its characters is aggravating in its simplicity and derivative nature. This is not to say that the dialogue is as poorly written. The script carries with it an acerbic wit that is effectively disarming and genuinely enjoyable. It is unfortunately in service to a structure that leaves a lot to be desired. The spots of intrigue are so bathed in mediocrity as to aggravate.
Ultimately, it is this inattention to the greater details of its story in which the film finds its major fault. The characters are drawn with thick lines and little necessary shading. The women in particular take a major hit, often coming across as little more than self-centered, nagging shrews that are unable to grow or develop any sense of empathy. The men offer a bit more development, but even then it never reads as something that was on the page. Much of the success of the film relies on the abilities of its cast. Wiig flounders, but Hader and a consistently charming performance from Luke Wilson, raise the content past its own inherent quality. The cast is constantly chained to this pedestrian outline, and only when they are afforded a modicum of freedom do they produce content that is worthy of admiration. The Skeleton Twins has the potential to be a fully realized drama that balances the darkly comic with enlightening drama, but in its execution hews much closer to overwrought melodrama.
The Skeleton Twins has the potential to be a fully realized drama that balances the darkly comic with enlightening drama, but in its execution hews much closer to overwrought melodrama.