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December 3, 2015

The Skeleton Twins

by Franz Patrick


Skeleton Twins, The (2014)
★ / ★★★★

“The Skeleton Twins,” written by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman, is a bore of a movie—pointless, disingenuous, forced—because it is about two depressive individuals who have no good reason to be depressed. Spending time with them is like being stuck in a claustrophobic coffin and all we can do is one of two things: nap until the exhausting experience is over or pay attention and scream into a pillow because the main characters have the tendency for making the most idiotic decisions. No wonder they’re unhappy.

Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) are reunited after the former’s failed suicide attempt. They have not seen in each other in a decade so, naturally, it is a bit awkward at first especially given the circumstances. Maggie offers Milo a place to stay for the time being because she is afraid he might try to kill himself again. Milo, reluctant, accepts the offer eventually—partly because it is a chance for him to be near a former lover, his English teacher (Ty Burrell) when he was fifteen.

The subject of depression is not handled in a realistic or even a thoughtful way. Instead, the script and the acting lean on what we come to expect: characters looking unkempt, mumbling when talking, looking as if they have not gotten a good night’s rest in weeks. Notice that these are behaviors because the writers fail to unearth what really makes these two specific siblings tick. Sure, we see them struggle to connect with other human beings—Milo with his former instructor and Maggie with her husband (Luke Wilson)—but there is no depth in their interactions, just lines to be uttered until the next scene begins.

A convincing relationship between Milo and Maggie is not established. While we get glimpses of the past when the duo were kids, the images are most uninformative. We see them playing together but that is nothing special. Effective dramatic pictures tend to provide a relatively clear sense of its characters’ history—especially ones that have something to do with relationships in a state of stagnancy or decay.

Instead, the material rests on showcasing interiors and exteriors that look drab. The technique, I suppose, is supposed to inspire an atmosphere of gloom. However, more discerning viewers are likely to notice that the screenplay is inconsistent when it comes to giving us substance. If these characters were so interesting—thereby their story worthy of being heard by us—almost each scene would have given a new piece of information, critical and not-so-important, thus allowing us to become active participants. We learn who Milo and Maggie are together as well as apart.

Directed by Craig Johnson, “The Skeleton Twins” is a family affair with minimal flavor and verve. There is only one good scene which involves Hader and Wiig lip-synching to Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” Even then it’s supposed to be amusing. By the end, it is clear that the material has no dramatic gravity.

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