Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are together again and it’s a beautiful thing. The Skeleton Twins reunites the Saturday Night Live alums after the success of their roles in the 2009’s Adventureland, but while that film relegates them to husband-wife comic relief, Twins aims for something richer and more meaningful. Here they play estranged siblings Milo and Maggie, who are brought back into each other’s lives by their near-simultaneous suicide attempts. During their first meeting together in 10 years, they share the type of jaded banter that you would except from long lost friends but their past bonds soon come to light when Maggie asks Milo to move in with her to recover.
We then meet Maggie’s adoring but oblivious husband Lance, played hilariously by Luke Wilson. He’s the kind of guy who uses the word “amigo” liberally and treats the world as a mountain to be climbed but Wilson finds a way of somehow grounding this character and making him believable as Maggie’s spouse. Ty Burrell is also strong as Rich, a teacher from Milo’s past with whom he tries reconnect. Those expecting Phil Dunphy-esque pratfalls may be disappointed to find a much more subdued and tortured performance.
Despite these characters, Hader and Wiig really are the reason to see this movie. The exceptional chemistry between them allows not only for one liners and dry sarcasm but also moments of real tension and poignancy. Maggie and Milo clearly have plenty of issues to work out, both in the present and the past. Like true brothers and sisters, they know just how to find each other’s triggers for humor and pain alike. The best example of this is the climatic bonding scene, which finds an upset Maggie reluctantly joining in on Milo’s grandiose lip-sync of Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”
Writer-director Craig Johnson, who co-wrote the script with Mark Heyman, does indulge indie comedy clichés from time to time but also does a commendable job of balancing black comedy with penetrating family drama. He’s wise not to over-direct his actors, especially in scenes of confrontation that really ring true. While the film goes to the well once too often with water imagery, it also has a muted visual style that suits the material nicely. The fall setting also allows for a well-timed Halloween party that contributes to the primary theme of nostalgia.
The film’s title is referenced in dialogue-free flashbacks of the twins spending time with their father as children, in particular a scene in which they’re gifted a set of matching skeleton figures. This fits in well with the Halloween theme but also hints at the theme of death that permeates the film. There’s a sense of unmitigated sorrow within both Milo and Maggie that somehow both separates and solidifies them. Despite this sadness, The Skeleton Twins is able to inject plenty of well-judged humor to create a bittersweet and memorable family affair.