Written PostCatching Up On 2014: Josh Reviews The Skeleton Twins

Catching Up On 2014: Josh Reviews The Skeleton Twins

The Skeleton Twins is a remarkably accomplished first feature film from director/co-writer Craig Johnson.  (Actually, I guess it’s his second film, officially, as his thesis film True Adolescents was released as a feature, according to wikipedia.)  I am impressed that this young director was able to attract such an incredible cast to his film.  It’s a testament to how great the script is (co-written with Mark Heyman).


Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader star as the titular Skeleton Twins, Maggie and Milo.  The two have been estranged for ten years.  As the film opens, we find them both considering suicide, but it’s Milo who manages to actually make the attempt.  He survives, and Maggie invites/insists that he stay with her and her husband Lance (Luke Wilson) while he recovers.

Both Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are absolutely phenomenal in the film.  Their friendship and previous working relationship pays off in spades as their chemistry, playing siblings in the film, is astounding.  Both actors are, of course, best known for their comedic chops.  But both prove themselves, here, to be terrific dramatic performers as well.  Ms. Wiig beautifully underplays Maggie, keeping her movements quiet and low-key.  But she brings a huge depth of feeling to the character, and there are a number of scenes in which Ms. Wiig’s stillness is able to convey a world of emotions.  At first, Maggie seems far more together than Milo, but we quickly see in Ms. Wiig’s eyes that this is not at all the case.  Mr. Hader is equally impressive.  I’ve never seen him play a character like this before.  Mr. Hader has some fun with some of Milo’s gay eccentricities, but he never turns Milo into a caricature.  This is a fully realized character, and Mr. Hader brings the audience into the decade of disappointment and heartbreak that has left the struggling Milo feeling lost and alone in the world.

But what’s best about the film is how alive things get every time that Ms. Wiig and Mr. Hader are on screen together.  They are magic.  The two share some very funny scenes, and also some incredibly sad, serious moments.  Whatever the tone, the central relationship between these siblings, as brought to life by these performers, rings true, and it’s the beating heart of the film.

The Skeleton Twins is very funny at times, though the film’s subject matter is very serious indeed.  Craig Johnson and his team are incredibly deft at balancing the tone of the film.  The comedy doesn’t undermine the drama, it helps support it, giving the audience moments of relief and release and also cementing these two broken characters as people who we care about and are invested in.  Look, in the opening scene, Maggie’s suicide attempt is interrupted by news of her brother’s suicide attempt.  If you find some humor in that grim idea, or the fact that Milo’s suicide note was addressed “to whom it may concern,” then this is going to be a film you will enjoy.

Both Luke Wilson and Ty Burrell do terrific work in the film’s two major supporting roles.  Luke Wilson plays Lance, Maggie’s somewhat dim but incredibly good-natured husband.  Mr. Wilson is terrific.  He has some of the film’s funniest lines, and he’s able to keep Lance likable while also conveying the ways in which Lance and Maggie might not be perfect for one another.  Ty Burrell (Modern Family) doesn’t get to do much joking in the film — his is probably the most serious role.  Rich is an older man with whom Milo had a previous relationship, and with whom Milo reconnects when he moves back in with Maggie.  Mr. Burrell is phenomenal, painting a full picture of this man.  He does the exact same trick that Mr. Wilson does with his performance, only from the opposite angle.  Rich is a character it might be too easy to hate, but Mr. Burrell keeps him three-dimensional, a real-live human being with some good qualities and some bad.

I really enjoyed this film.  The story is deeply compelling, and the performances are tremendous.  It’s funny and sad and real.  This is a winner.  It didn’t get a huge amount of play during its theatrical release, so I encourage you to track it down on DVD or streaming video.  This is a complex, unique, emotional film, one that is profoundly funny and deeply felt.