When actors best known for their comedic chops are looking to demonstrate their dramatic range, it’s de rigueur for them to turn to depression (see: Jim Carrey: Eternal Sunshine, Steve Carrell: Dan in Real Life, Zach Braff: Garden State). And so it is with Kirstin Wiig in The Skeleton Twins, convincingly slumped and dead eyed in the role of Maggie, a dental hygienist and multiple adulterer whose thoughts are drifting to suicide. Fellow Saturday Night Live alumni Bill Hader is on hand as her twin Milo, similarly in a mighty funk – he’s a failed actor that Maggie takes home following an unsuccessful suicide attempt, little aware she’s also close to the brink. He takes the return to his home town as an opportunity to reengage with the teacher that he had an affair with when he was 15, while Wiig, driven by a mixture of boredom and thinly veiled contempt for her lovely-but-dull husband (Luke Wilson, skilfully deployed), conducts her latest affair – this time, with her hunky scuba instructor.
The film is frequently funny – Hader and Wiig have brilliant deadpan timing and their more flippant interactions are a joy to watch. Their relationship vacillates between combative and loving, and in their interactions the writing is subtle, clever and nuanced, all played out with a very easy chemistry between the two. By contrast, the husband and wife drama of Wiig and Wilson is utterly rote, and an appearance from Milo and Maggie’s neglectful New Age mother (Joanna Gleeson) feels trite, shoe-horned in for added drama. Hader’s interactions with former teacher/lover/statutory rapist Ty Burrell are clear-eyed and cringe-inducing, without casting moral judgement on the dubious nature of their relationship past and present.
Unfortunately, despite the heavy back-story (both twins are haunted by the legacy of their father’s suicide when they were teenagers), The Skeleton Twins ultimately veers towards the shallows – more comfortable during bawdy karaoke sequences and laughing gas induced shenanigans than the soul-baring monologues – meaning that despite the deftness of the performances there’s little profundity or depth. This wouldn’t be a problem if the film didn’t signal a loftier aim – from Wiig’s opening monologue “Maybe we were doomed from the beginning” the film wants you to know that it Is About Important Stuff, you know.
Despite this failure, however, the film is never less than watchable, and Wiig and Hader make for very amiable company. Director Craig Johnson and co-screenwriter Mark Heyman may have made yet another indie comedy-drama about middle class familial dysfunction, but it is one of the better ones. Sort of. Mostly.