The Skeleton Twins
Directed by Craig Johnson
Estranged twins Maggie and Milo coincidentally cheat death on the same day, prompting them to reunite and confront the reasons their lives went so wrong. As the twins' reunion reinvigorates them, they realize the key to fixing their lives may just lie in repairing their relationship.
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★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
An immediate addition to my top ten or fifteen favorite films of the year. Whoever Craig Johnson is, he sure as hell knows how to create a perfect blend of comedy and drama, and I'm already eagerly anticipating his next film.
These are what I would describe as breakout performances for Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader, because it demonstrates that they can apply their comedic styles to realistic, dramatic roles.
One of the things that I enjoyed most about The Skeleton Twins was how the tone of the film was equally as bipolar as the characters; it fluctuates between upbeat and tragic moments with the same instability as its protagonists.
Nonetheless, Maggie and Milo hardly seemed like characters because they feel so real, so genuine, like people that I've met before - with real flaws and truly lovable aspects to their personalities as well. If you're looking for the SNL character of Stefon here in Bill Hader's role as Milo, you're not going to find it. As hilarious as that sketch it, his performance here is far, far more authentic.
I suppose that I'm a sucker for anything 80s-esque or recalling of 80s nostalgia - though I have no idea why because I wasn't born until '93, haha - so I was probably bound to love this film before I even walked into the theater. Nonetheless, it exceeded my expectations and blew me away. I can admit that toward the end of the film, I was questioning the plausibility of a certain climatic scene, but the actors and the director pulled it off with such beauty and poignancy that not only was I able to look past the unlikelihood of the scene's outcome, it actually became one of my favorite moments of the film.
Speaking of beauty, I was not expecting this movie to be so wonderfully filmed. There's another scene in which Maggie and Milo are dancing together at a Halloween party that is lit and shot so gorgeously, it reminded me of the floating brothel scene in Beasts of the Southern Wild. A flawlessly paced film complimented by a fitting soundtrack/score and unmatchable chemistry between Hader and Wiig - The Skeleton Twins is, in my opinion, one of the year's best films.
★★★★★ review by Ryan Narc on Letterboxd
I wasn't sure exactly what about this film was drawing me into seeing it in the theaters, especially on opening day (at least in my area). I hadn't seen any previews, just read a simple synopsis and knew about the general cast involved. But now I realize that, whether the reasoning have been some subconscious knowing or just the way things work out, that this film is exactly what I needed to see at this particular time in my life. Much of it hit closer to home than expected and it managed to bring about that odd occurrence when it suddenly seems like something gets in both of my eyes.. on more than one occasion, I might add.
Of course it has it's flaws, but none of them mattered to me to the point of ruining my experience. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are both absolutely astounding in their roles, and I'm so glad they ventured off into dramatic territory at all, let alone together where they work perfectly off of each other. I usually try not to predetermine how a film I'm watching for the first time is going to end, I prefer to just let it unfold on it's own without constant guessing; but I have to admit that this was one of those rare cases where I truly wanted a happy ending and couldn't help thinking about it. I just wanted to see these two people finally be happy. Plus, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to mentally withstand something horrible happening because I became so invested in them.
I loved every moment of The Skeleton Twins and I'm truly glad I followed my instinct and went to see it. I'm sure it won't work for everyone but it obviously did for me, in just about every way; which is why I decided to give it my highest rating for now.
★★★★½ review by Simone on Letterboxd
I don't think enough films explore the bonds between siblings. So often it's romantic or parent-child relationships. I'm not a twin, but I have a little brother close in age to me and we both struggle with mental illness. Growing up, we had a pretty typical sibling rivalry, and there were times when I told anyone who would listen how much I hated him. Something my mom and my 8th grade teacher said has resonated with me all this time - they predicted that as adults, we would be very close. No one would understand us like we understand each other, and we'd depend on each other for emotional support. We would be "all each other had." Now that we're adults, it appears that prediction is holding. The relationship we have now is mutually supportive and filled with the kind of honesty impossible in any other relationships in our lives. The Skeleton Twins is one of the few films that struck close to this dynamic. The only other example I can think of is Kenneth Lonnergan's fantastic You Can Count On Me.
Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) are adult 30-something year old twins who have been estranged for ten years. He's an out of work actor working dead end jobs in LA to stay afloat, and she stayed in their hometown in New York where she's been married for two years to a cheerful, kind, and outdoorsy man named Billy (Luke Wilson). They are reunited after they attempt suicide on the same day, Milo ends up in the hospital, and Maggie takes him home with her. It's clear that their bond hasn't been completely shattered by the time and distance between them, but catching up will reveal a lot about themselves they had been hiding for a very long time. Their reunion is an opportunity to heal, but it may require blowing up their lives.
Everyone gave wonderful performances. The easy chemistry between Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader carries throughout all of the tumult and wild tonal shifts. I loved Bill Hader's sensitive, wounded, and vulnerable performance. I loved Kristen Wiig's depiction of how shame and secrecy can hollow out a person. The highest high of the film comes when Milo puts on a cheesy 80's song and he lip syncs it aggressively until Maggie joins him. Almost immediately following this scene, with the same music playing on Milo's headphones, a painful low point begins. These sorts of tonal shifts are present throughout the movie, and only their phenomenal performances link them emotionally. Luke Wilson has always been a favorite of mine. Even when he's in a completely shitty movie, he's always endearing. There's this undercurrent of sadness to every performance, and here, his sunny demeanor couldn't completely mask that. It makes it plausible that he could end up with someone like Maggie. Obligatory mention of how hot Boyd Holbrook was as the delicious scuba instructor Maggie cheats with.
The Skeleton Twins is bursting with indie clichés, which I think is more a function of these intimate relationship dramedies coming from very real and cathartic places for their creators. I don't get bogged down in them as much as I do with more mainstream films because the performances are often so raw and impressive. The central relationship here is filled with so much warmth, pain, forgiveness, and brutal honesty that plausibility and originality don't matter. One moment they're best buddies sharing inside jokes, the next they're hurling incredibly painful truth bombs at each other. I connected with their manifestations of depression and suicidal tendencies. These characters didn't truly want to die. They were crying out for help. Luckily, they heard each other. As cheesy as it sounds, as long as they have each other, I think all will be right in their world.
★★★★½ review by SilentDawn on Letterboxd
Although stuck with some recurring indie cliches and typical subplot resolutions, The Skeleton Twins is a stirring example of fine material elevated into a special film of grounded truth and poetic secrets. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are both absolutely fantastic, and along with Craig Johnson's assured direction and Reed Morano's moody cinematography (the Halloween setting was kewl), the film brilliantly rises above convention and transforms into a deeply-felt story of heartbreak and gentleness.
★★★★ review by Esteban Gonzalez on Letterboxd
“I see you're getting your sense of humor back.”
The Skeleton Twins was a pleasant surprise which surpassed all my expectations. I wasn’t familiar with director Craig Johnson’s previos film (True Adolescents), and despite having seen Kristen Wiig in some strong dramatic roles before, I didn’t expect Bill Hader to be able to deliver one. I’m glad I finally got around watching this small indie drama because it is one of the best of the year. Despite covering some familiar territory, the chemistry between the two leads is what makes this film stand out. We’ve seen films focus on sibling relationships in the past, but I can’t remember the last time I saw one that felt so authentic as The Skeleton Twins. Their relationship is the core of the film and without strong performances from Hader and Wiig this could have been a disaster considering the material covers some dark subject matters (suicide, adultery, pedophilia) and the characters are flawed. It is hard to pull off an engaging performance when you are given a flawed character, but both Hader and Wiig deliver solid roles. Their off screen friendship was probably one of the reasons why these two hit it off so well in the film and you actually believed they were siblings. I usually tend to dislike depressive films, but The Skeleton Twins balances these depressing subject matters with some effective comedic moments. There is a perfect balance between the drama and the comedy which feels authentic and never manipulative. Without being overly explicit, the audience can assume that despite the fact that these two siblings have been estranged from each other, they are still very much connected. Their past continues to haunt them, but at the same time you know they belong with each other, and the only possible way to begin a healing process is by sticking together.
The dramatic scenes hit hard, but so does the comedy with some very memorable moments. There is a scene between the twins where the two lip-sync to an 80’s song that stands out. It is perhaps the greatest lip-syncing scene I’ve seen in the history of cinema. There are also many other memorable scenes, and the film is at its peak when it centers on the twins. All the highlights for me involved Wiig and Hader’s characters together: the dentist scene, the lip-synch scene, and the Halloween dress up scene. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like the subplots and supporting characters, but it just proves who strong Wiig and Hader were together. Haider gives the best performance of his career, and so far one of my favorites of the year. Luke Wilson and Ty Burell also deliver solid performances. Wilson’s character plays Wiig’s wife and he is perhaps the most likable character in the film. He may not be the perfect fit for Wiig, but the film never tries to portray him in a negative light in order for the audience to sympathize more with Wiig’s character. That is what made this film feel authentic, the lead characters are broken and damaged people who are trying to heal as they reconnect with each other. This isn’t a feel good comedy, it goes to dark places at times so some audiences might be put off by the depressive tone of the film, but I found it perfectly balanced with some great comedic moments which helped me enjoy the film. Fans of the Sons of Anarchy series might also enjoy Robert Boyd Holbrook’s secondary role in this film. He doesn’t get much screen time, but he does play a key role which helps us understand some of Wiig’s conflicts. The Skeleton Twins might be too honest for some, but I did enjoy this film quite a bit, which was wonderfully written by Johnson and Mark Heyman (Black Swan). The film does have some unnecessary scenes (like the flashbacks and the forced ending), but it is still a solid film where Bill Hader gets to shine and prove he can play dramatic roles as well.
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