Comedy Drama

Nothing's Gonna Stop this Film Review: The Skeleton Twins

September 26, 2014Ben MK

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It takes two...

Like most Saturday Night Live alumni who've gone on to film careers, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are known for bringing the funny. In fact, judging by their filmography, you might think that's their one-and-only specialty. If so, then you'll be pleasantly surprised by their newest collaboration, The Skeleton Twins, a poignant comedy-drama that casts the pair as estranged siblings who reunite in the wake of a near-tragedy. It's ostensibly a film revolving depression, angst and suicide, but the tremendous humor and heart they bring to their roles makes it one of the most emotionally fulfilling movies of the year.


When we first meet their characters, Maggie and Milo Dean, it's via a flashback sequence recalling their childhood in upstate New York, as Maggie (Wiig) reminisces about how inseparable she and her twin brother, Milo (Hader), used to be, while we watch their father hand them each a skeleton doll (hence the film's title).

Cut to present day L.A., where Milo, an out-of-work gay actor whose life hasn't gone according to script (he bemoans peaking in high school), is about to kill himself by slitting his wrists in the bathtub. Meanwhile, back in their hometown of Nyack, New York, Maggie, a dental hygienist who's also dissatisfied with her life, clutches a handful of pills and is about to arrive at the same irrevocable conclusion. Thanks to circumstance and good timing, however, they both receive a reprieve, and after 10 long years spent growing apart, the two are given an opportunity to reconnect with one another and repair their neglected relationship.

In only these first few minutes of the story, co-writer/director Craig Johnson (who made his directorial debut with the indie dramedy True Adolescents) and co-writer Mark Heyman (who also co-scripted Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan) quickly establish the rhythm and tone that will set the bar for the rest of the film — a series of highs and lows blending humor (as seen in a wryly funny interchange between Maggie and Milo in an L.A. hospital waiting room), sombre subject matter and genuinely heartfelt (not to mention heart-wrenching) emotion.

As part of his recovery, Milo — who's emerged from his suicide attempt slightly more worse for wear that his sister has from hers — makes the return trip back to Nyack with Maggie, where he meets her well-intentioned yet dull-witted husband, Lance (Luke Wilson), for the first time and feigns not being overtly mortified by his and Maggie's mundane lifestyle. As he gets caught up on all the gory details he's missed over the past decade — including Maggie and Lance's plans to have kids and to take a long overdue Hawaiian honeymoon — he's inspired to revisit the ghosts from his own past, by trying to rekindle his relationship with a former flame, teacher Rich Levitt (Modern Family's Ty Burrell, in a clear departure from his usual sitcom antics).

Needless to say, homecomings such as these rarely ever work out as intended, and never are they uneventful. Eventually, the complications of Maggie and Milo's lives come unraveled, and all the answers to the mysteries posed early on in the film — namely, what caused the rift between them and why Maggie feels the need to kill herself — are laid bare through a series of revelations about their family life and their childhood, as well as confessions about past (and ongoing) indiscretions.

Aside from depression and suicide, the film also dabbles in equally heavy themes like infidelity, sexual abuse and parental abandonment, but — with almost complete credit owing to Wiig and Hader's performance — rarely does it ever dwell on the negative. Each time Johnson has the narrative follow Maggie and Milo down into a low point in their lives, he almost immediately follows it up with a high — whether it be an emotional or a humorous one, or both — ultimately leading Maggie and Milo to the realization that as long as they have each other, they can withstand whatever hardship life throws at them.

The Bottom Line Although the story's bittersweet message may sound clichéd, Wiig and Hader fully commit to it, making it work with their effortless charm and even turning what could have easily been an eye-rolling moment — a sing-along to Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" — into the highlight of the film. In fact, it may even be the most grin-inducing scene to grace cinema screens all year. Their on-screen chemistry — no doubt a byproduct of their shared years on SNL — is undeniable, and they radiate such endearing warmth and sincerity in their roles that (unless you're a hardened cynic) you'll exit the movie with a tear in your eyes and a smile on your lips.  Ben Mk

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