The Skeleton Twins (3 stars)

The Skeleton Twins

Nicely-balanced comedy drama starring SNL alumni Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig

This nicely-balanced comedy drama probes the fraught but loving bond between twin siblings Milo and Maggie, played by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. He’s a lost soul whose dreams of stardom have staled into waiting tables; she’s a smalltown dental hygienist who can’t stop cheating on her dumb, kindly husband (Luke Wilson); both carry the legacy of a troubled past. Kenneth Lonergan’s superb You Can Count on Me is a significant precursor here; but this film goes less deep, and unsurprisingly, with Hader and Wiig both celebrated graduates of Saturday Night Live, there’s rather more straight-up comedy involved, including two long set pieces. A practiced lip-synch of Starship’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now is an upfront demand for laughs, but deserves and gets them; a much less funny improvised sequence goes on forever, and leans heavily on fart noises. As old castmates, Hader and Wiig have persuasive chemistry, though he’s a bit better with the story’s heavier content than she. Some of the supporting characterisation is painted in very broad strokes – Joanna Gleason’s self-absorbed New Age mom is just those two things, Luke Wilson’s nice-guy doofus very insistently that – and the presentation in terms of music and visuals can be a bit indie-by-numbers, with a lot of pushy music and people floating underwater. But director Craig Johnson and his co-screenwriter Mark Heyman, who have been developing the film together since their university days, skilfully swerve away from either excessive mawkishness or the kind of bitchy nihilism that can afflict tales of broken families and marital infidelity. If some of the emotional cues are blunt, other story threads are sensitively developed, and the morality is nicely complex: the film never tells you what to think about Maggie’s sexual slip-ups, or about a dangerous relationship that Milo is keen to bring back from the dead.

The Skeleton Twins

  • 3 stars
  • 2014
  • US
  • 1h 31min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Craig Johnson
  • Written by: Mark Heyman/Craig Johnson
  • Cast: Kristen Wiig, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook
  • UK release: 7 November 2014

Having both coincidentally cheated death on the same day, estranged twins reunite with the possibility of mending their relationship.