Movie Review: 'The Skeleton Twins' (2014)

"Saturday Night Live” alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader star in this relentlessly depressing, off-kilter dramedy about a pair of estranged adult twins, who are depressed, suicidal and thrown back into each other’s orbit when Hader’s Milo acts on his feelings. Released into his sister Maggie’s care, Milo heads back to his hometown in New York after a long stint in Los Angeles trying to make it as an actor and finds himself trying to help the just as emotionally fragile Maggie, in the process.

In a lot of ways “The Skeleton Twins” is about two blind mice trying to help each other find the exit door of perpetual chaos and while that might sound amusing, it’s just sad to watch. 

Milo is still reeling from a recent breakup with his boyfriend, his personal disappointment at the state of his career and his suicide attempt, when he finds himself drawn back to a former flame (Ty Burrell). As the mystery surrounding their connection and the impact it had on his relationship with his sister plays out, there is the mystery of what the heck is wrong with Maggie to begin with.

She has a great husband, a nice house, a good job and she is still unhappy. It’s revealed that she has been having numerous affairs behind the devoted Lance’s (Luke Wilson) back and despite knowing this, acts like she is a victim. 

Both twins have been severely traumatized by the suicide of their father and there seems to an undercurrent to the narrative suggesting they are playing out a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy in their behavior, the shadow of their father’s last act haunting their every move. Adding to this, they have a dreadfully self-obsessed mother (Joanna Gleason) who’s moved on with her new family and barely bothered to look back.

The twins are clearly clinically depressed and despite Milo attempting suicide, there is no presentation of him going to a therapist or being counseled in any way. He’s just left to try to pick up the pieces himself and in reconnecting with Maggie, finds his own recovery hindered by her issues.

The narcissism Maggie exhibits makes her an incredibly unlikable character. She never bothers to beat herself up for compulsively cheating on Lance or asks herself why she can’t embrace happiness. She consciously knows that she is hurting a good person and does it anyway, taking no accountability for her behavior. There is nothing redeemable about that.

Lance, on the other hand, is kind to his wife, generous and caring towards her brother, and wants to help both of them the best he can. He does nothing to deserve what he reaps and yet the narrative never treats him as the innocent victim he truly is, the unwitting casualty of a very cruel woman. 

As the movie descends into utterly gloomy terrain, the performances help mitigate the frustration a tad. Kristen Wiig’s performance is subtle and her charisma earns Maggie more understanding than she deserves on paper. Bill Hader truly shines in a turn that balances the flamboyant exhuberance of Milo with the melancholy emotions lurking just beneath the surface.

He and Wiig share a highly memorable scene lip-synching the 80s power ballad “Nothings Gonna Stop Us Now”, earning one of the few laughs the film has to offer. Luke Wilson makes a formidable impression as proverbial Mr. Good Guy, Lance.

Playing the nice guy isn’t always easy and he never plays Lance for overwrought sympathy, rather as an ordinary guy blissfully unaware that he’ll eventually get crushed under the wheels of his wife’s deception.

When you have a movie starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader together, there are going to be expectations and sadly, “The Skeleton Twins” falls way shy of meeting them. Unlike “Girl Most Likely,” the dark comedy that found Wiig similarly tackling the subject matter of suicide, there is no real levity to balance out the dark themes presented in “Skeleton Twins.”

Scrounging for laughs is as difficult and lucky a find as spotting a $20 bill in a parking lot; rare but not impossible. What exactly writer/director Craig Johnson is trying to say by the end of this disheartening odyssey is puzzling.

One sibling who sabotages any chance at happiness and another who desperately wishes he could find the very thing his sister readily discards; makes for a perpetual cycle of sorrow. Playing on that special bond twins purportedly share, the two seemingly just want to be left to their own devices so they can co-dependently rely on each other, the only two people who can truly understand them and their dysfunctional upbringing. By the time the story ends, it’s hard not to argue they deserve each other. Rating: 5/10