by Megan Smith
Unpopular opinion: I didn’t find director Craig Johnson’s The Skeleton Twins to be “really funny,” as so many critics have claimed. And going into a movie that stars Saturday Night Live veterans Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, funny is what’s to be expected. Instead, I’m going to agree with Rolling Stone when it called the film “heart-crushingly real.” The Skeleton Twins gives you the unexpected—an honest, character-driven story. And that’s exactly what makes this film absolutely superb.
The film opens with dental hygienist Maggie Dean (Wiig) staring at a fistful of sleeping pills—on the brink of committing suicide—when her phone rings. Her twin brother, Milo (Hader), is in the hospital after slitting his wrists in a suicide attempt of his own. Just like a sibling to mess up your plans for the day.
Milo, a failed Hollywood actor, is lonely and depressed following a recent breakup with his boyfriend. When Maggie arrives at the hospital, it’s the first time the twins have seen each other in 10 years. In an attempt to break the silence, Milo jokes, “Look at me, another tragic gay cliché.”
Maggie, being a loyal sister despite their estrangement, insists that Milo should come to stay with her and her husband, Lance (Luke Wilson), in their upstate New York hometown. Lance reads like an inspirational-quote poster—an easygoing man’s man whose positive outlook on life is annoyingly over-the-top. He and Maggie make for an oddball couple—instead of their personalities balancing each other out, they exaggerate each other’s extremes. The more depressed she becomes, the more he seems to try and compensate.
The reason behind the twins’ estrangement isn’t initially addressed, but it’s soon revealed that it’s due—at least in part—to an inappropriate affair that Milo had with one of his high school English teachers, Rich (Ty Burrell), as a teenager. Soon after Milo moves in with Maggie, he looks up Rich (who is still closeted, living with his girlfriend and son) in an attempt to rekindle their flame.
Although Milo is now an adult, the vibe that Rich gives off when the two are together still feels predatory. Rich gives Milo false hope by sleeping with him, only to treat him coldly the following morning. His true motive, we find out, is to have Milo read his film script, as he’s under the impression that Milo is a successful actor with an agent back in Los Angeles.
Maggie has some skeletons in her closet as well. Although she’s finally found the “nice guy” every girl seems to desperately seek, she’s not in love or even satisfied with her marriage. Instead, she’s secretly having sex with her scuba instructor—something that doesn’t fulfill her either. Caught up in what seems to be an endless funk, Maggie also hides her birth control around the house instead of telling her husband she’s not ready to have kids. As Milo says, “He’s good. Maybe good isn’t your thing.”
Despite the serious subject matter, there are some delightfully comedic moments—in Wiig and Hader’s signature crowd-pleasing style—scattered throughout the film. The pair rocks a hilarious lip-sync scene to the ’80s hit “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” and the look on an intoxicated Milo’s face when he goes to a local gay bar looking to pick up someone, only to find out it’s “dyke night,” is priceless.
Like most twins, Maggie and Milo share each other’s pain and failures without even trying. But the most beautiful part of the story is when the pair realizes that the solution to fixing their situations may lie in fixing their relationship with one another.
Available from Lionsgate (lionsgate.com).