Screenpass: The Skeleton Twins takes on the indie family drama

The Skeleton Twins, directed by Craig Johnson, is the story of Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie Dean (Kristen Wiig), twin siblings who reconnect after 10 years of not speaking, when Milo’s survives a suicide attempt. Maggie picks Milo up from L.A. and brings him home to stay with her and her husband, Lance (Luke Wilson) in New York.

Then the drama begins: Lance wants to have kids, Maggie doesn’t. Milo is depressed and no one gives him a shoulder to cry on. Their mother shows up and, surprise surprise, she is not particularly stable either. Through it all, Milo and Maggie have to deal with each other, their pasts, and their own lives.

While the twins are not saints, Wiig and Hader’s performances help complicate the characters, making it hard to say whether they are simply good or bad. Even Wilson does better than expected. Lance is a genuine person, albeit an odd one, and does more than stand still while Wiig and Hader dance around him. The film can at times feel crowded with unnecessary dramatic turmoil. Luckily, Wiig, Hader, and Wilson bring a sense of honesty to it all. Highlights include a powerful lip-synching duet of  “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” a slow-mo leaf-raking montage, and Milo and Maggie getting high on nitrous.

The film’s not all laughs. It does not try to be a drama, but it does not avoid the genre either. While Wiig and Hader are famous for their time at Saturday Night Live, they demonstrate some impressive dramatic acting abilities. It’s not that The Skeleton Twins doesn’t sit firmly in one genre;  rather the film doesn’t make an active effort to stay within one category. Done another way, the film and its script could have ended up all too predictable. Thankfully, Johnson is not interested in making another Little Miss Sunshine wannabe. Because of that, there’s a balance of laughs and tears that feel real.

The film has a steady pace, a rarity in these psychological family dramedies that often try and stuff all the turmoil down your throat in the first act. The Skeleton Twins has its fair share of preposterous plot points, but its deliberate pace saves it from the clichéd tropes it could drown in otherwise.

In the end, Milo and Maggie have to learn to deal with the problems in their lives in ways that don’t involve suicide or sleeping around. A summary of The Skeleton Twins would induce serious eye-rolls. Johnson is able to handle all the moving parts well and keeps things interesting. Still, it’s amazing that two siblings could have so many indie-movie clichés happening in their life all at once. But it’s a movie, and a well-acted one, so it’s well worth the ride.

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