January 22, 2014



Star power makes all the difference  in THE SKELETON TWINS.  Craig Johnson’s dramedy (written with Mark Heyman) takes place in fairly commonplace territory, especially at Sundance:  siblings bound together, whether they like it or not, by embittered love and old family scars.  What isn’t expected, though, is for those roles to be filled by SNL alumni Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader,

Nevertheless, here they are.  Hader plays Milo, a gay would-be actor living in Los Angeles and, when we meet him, attempting suicide.   With a symmetry that’s a little too neat (not the last time that will happen in the film), at the same moment, his sister Maggie (Wiig) is seriously contemplating the same thing, although on the face of it, her life is in much better shape, with loving husband Lance (Luke Wilson), plans for a family, and a nice house in the upstate New York town where they grew up.  But while Maggie’s desperation isn’t quite as noisy as Milo’s, she’s miserable too, and just as capable of self-destructively acting out.

Maggie brings Milo home after his suicide attempt, even though they haven’t spoken for 10 years due to what’s gradually revealed as an extremely messy past that involves Milo’s former English teacher Rich (Ty Burrell).  The movie is about the recovery of their relationship–and through it, their own recoveries–and allowing for a detour here and there, it eventually gets exactly where you’d expect it to go.

Skeleton Twins works, though, and that’s largely due to Wiig and Hader.  This isn’t the first time Wiig has taken the indie dramedy route, but in her other attempts (The Girl Most Likely and the upcoming Hateship Loveship) there’s been something wan and washed-out about her, as though she thought that no one would take her seriously if she showed any comic energy.  Here, Johnson and Heyman allow her to be both funny and serious, and she’s never been better, each branch of her talent feeding the other.  It certainly may also have helped to have a familiar co-star, and Hader gives a believable, fully rounded performance. (He’s also quite effective in a relatively serious supporting role in the yet-to-be-released The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby).  Playing a gay character runs Hader right up to the edge of his most famous SNL creation, Stefon, and he negotiates the overlap with great skill, neither making Milo a cartoon nor dulling him down.

The Skeleton Twins is by no means a perfectly constructed piece of work.  Milo and Maggie’s mother (Joanna Gleason) is brought in for a single scene that adds little and has no nuance at all, and once the full story of the English teacher is told, it raises more question than it answers.  Maggie’s husband Lance, although well played by Wilson, doesn’t have much depth.  The ending is conventional.  The relationship between the brother and sister, though, as played by this pair, is satisfying and often enjoyable (Wiig and Hader have a scene lip-synching an ’80s song that will go on their respective highlight reels), and it should find a moderate but appreciative audience.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."