October 30 — November 06
The Skeleton Twins
|Sat - Sun||2:00||5:00||7:00|
|Mon - Thurs||5:30|
Unless otherwise noted, films begin on Friday and run through the next Thursday.
The presence of Saturday Night Light alumni Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as dysfunctional twin siblings might suggest that director Craig Johnson’s film is a silly, uproarious comedy. It’s not. Early in the film, brother and sister make separate attempts at suicide. It’s not played for laughs. That’s not to say that Hader and Wiig don’t have a quirky comic chemistry—they’ve co-starred on the venerable television series so long that they have a “feel” for one another’s rhythms that’s very much like the lived-in, long-suffering bond between genuine siblings. Both characters, Milo (Hader) and Maggie (Wiig), share an often caustic wit and biting sense of humor. There are laughs in The Skeleton Twins, but they’re rooted in despair and realistic psychology. Some critics have compared this intriguing character study to Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me (2000), in which an amiable screw-up played by Mark Ruffalo comes to stay with his older, seemingly more stable sister (Laura Linney), only to realize that her life is pretty messy, too, and messy in many of the same ways as his. The Skeleton Twins has failed actor Milo traveling from L.A. to New York (beautiful in autumn) to whine and mope about his life to his sister Maggie. She seems initially more mature and responsible than Milo—in comparison—but viewers quickly catch on that Maggie’s “grown-up” life is a sham: she’s playing at being an adult but she doesn’t feel like one. It’s Milo who had the courage to make a go at leaving their home town and following his dream. Maggie stayed behind and married a likeable but dull man (Luke Wilson as Lance). She cares enough about Milo to let him stay with them after his suicide attempt, but gradually their proximity reopens old wounds. Milo attempts to reunite with an old flame, bookstore owner Rich (Ty Burrell), whose past relationship with Milo is marked by discomfort (to say the least). Those viewers concerned that playing gay will tempt Hader to lapse into his outrageous, mincing “Stefon” character from SNL need not worry: his performance is remarkably restrained, serious, and genuinely affecting. Milo has many issues, but he’s comfortable with his homosexuality, and Hader smartly focuses on Milo’s humanity rather than trying to create a “gay character.” Milo just happens to be gay; he’s perfectly fine with it. Wiig is equally good as a woman who seems more “together” on the surface but eventually we come to see is even more messed up than her brother—she’s just perfected a way of hiding her insecurities, partly through bitter humor. In addition to Wilson and Burrell, mention should also be made of Joanna Gleason as the twins’ mother, whose obsession with New Age religion has put her on an astral plane far, far away from her own children, just when they need her most. It’s a heartbreaking but amusing performance—and like most of the film’s humor, it doesn’t just exist to get laughs but to help define and provide insight into the characters. Johnson, who co-wrote the film with Mark Heyman, is adept at creating sharp, incisive dialogue that is often funny—in a way that real people are, not professional comics—and his actors respond with superlative, three-dimensional characterizations. Even fans of Hader and Wiig may be pleasantly surprised at their acting chops—along with SNL alum Bill Murray in some of his recent roles, they show a sincere desire to create flesh-and-blood people, not joke machines. And they’re excellent. Their comic personas enhance their performances as two self-pitying, messed-up souls who cling together because the rest of the world doesn’t understand them—though at times they can’t stand each other. Just like real brothers and sisters. The Skeleton Twins earns real laughs but stays true to its foundation of tragedy—Milo’s and Maggie’s father committed suicide and his dark legacy has hovered over the siblings all of their adult lives. Critic J.R. Kinnard wrote in Sound on Sight about the film’s handling of potentially off-putting, depressing material without sugar-coating it: “[Johnson and Heyman] respect the darkness but they aren’t afraid of it. Instead, it lurks in the corner like some unwanted houseguest…. You acknowledge it and you learn to live with it… or you don’t.” If that makes The Skeleton Twins sound rather sinister, Kinnard also notes that this is “a heartfelt movie that never exploits its dark side for a few cheap tears.” Appropriately tying everything together with an unforgettable conclusion set on Halloween Night, the film has fun using the metaphor of “ghosts”—ghosts of the past that still haunt the living. Despite the fact that Heyman also co-wrote the psychological horror film The Black Swan, Johnson’s movie isn’t quite that scary. Hader and Wiig do a marvelous job at keeping the tone from becoming too morbid—their comic sensibilities shine through delightfully, as in one scene where brother and sister lip-sync to Starship’s cheesy ‘80’s power anthem “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” There are enough playful moments like that to make us appreciate the resilience of these two survivors, whose trauma could’ve been portrayed as much more bleak than it is here. And ultimately, it’s optimistic: there is forward movement—the past doesn’t have to suck us in like quicksand. Powerful and involving, The Skeleton Twins expertly walks a tightrope between cynicism and sentiment, hopelessness and hilarity. It’s unpredictable, extremely well-acted, and one of the best comedy-dramas of the year.
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