THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!
One of the things I really like about living in Los Angeles, especially where I am by the beach, is that it rarely gets oppressively hot. I cannot stand the heat. Heat is my kryptonite, and when you combine that with the whole not-being-able-to-fly thing, you quickly will come to realize that I am a less-than-ideal Superman at best. We all have our weaknesses, so shoot me, wait…actually don't, I'm not made of steel either. Regardless, a few weeks ago it got hot. Brutally, barbarically, demonically hot. It was the kind of hot that reminds me of New York City in August and the stilted air while waiting for a subway train that makes you feel like you are standing in the worlds largest urinal. In other words…it was uncomfortably HOT. Luckily for me, a pretty young lady approached me with an ingenious plan to escape the heat. Her idea was to go somewhere where there was air conditioning. I immediately recognized her brilliance. So we decided to go see a movie. She wanted to see The Skeleton Twins, starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. I consented. This is our story, this is their story.
The Skeleton Twins, directed by Craig Johnson and written by Johnson and Mark Heyman, is the story of estranged siblings Maggie and Milo, played by Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, who come together after ten years of estrangement. Maggie flies to Los Angeles to pick up her brother Milo after he attempts to kill himself. She takes him back to their hometown in upstate New York to help him regain some mental and emotional stability. Although returning to 'home' may be the last thing that will give Milo any stability considering his personal, and the family's history.
Bill Hader as Milo is really great. Hader is obviously a great comedic actor, and this role affords him the chance to be bitterly and brutally funny, but what impresses the most is that he isn't trying to be funny. His comedy comes out of the natural circumstances and personality of the character. You watch him in this film and you forget he is Bill Hader, you just see Milo, who is a fully formed and completely believable human being. Hader never breaks from his commitment to character, and he is so naturalistic in his approach that his performance seems effortless. Milo is charismatic, funny and yet heartbreaking. Hader's work is seamless.
Kristen Wiig on the other hand never seems to find her character, and we see her exerting a great deal of effort in trying to "act". Having watched Wiig for years on Saturday Night Live and seeing her in Bridesmaids, I do not hesitate a single moment in calling her a comedic genius. She is a joy to watch when she is in her element. Sadly though, in The Skeleton Twins she is out of her element. She tries to be serious and heavy and dark, but she simply lacks the skill, endurance or commitment to do it believably. You can almost see how desperate she is to be taken seriously as an actress. The only time she seems to find her stride is when she and Hader have scenes which are nothing more than the two of them clowning around, lip-synching a Jefferson Starship song and getting high on Nitrous Oxide. The difference between Hader and Wiig in this film is that Hader is acting while Wiig is performing. Yes, Hader is funny and 'performs' as Milo, but we are seeing Milo perform, not Hader. Where with Wiig we are watching HER perform, and not Maggie. Part of the reason for this is that Milo is written to support Hader's 'performing' where as Maggie is not written to support Wiig's performing.
As crazy as this sounds, I couldn't help but feel that this film could have been really great if another more 'serious' actress were cast as Maggie. Wiig's castmate from Bridesmaids, Rose Byrne, for instance, comes to mind. Byrne is a very good actress, and she can do comedy, but she isn't funny…she's an actress. Wiig is someone who is funny who is trying to act, and that is not what the film needed. The reason being that you need to balance Hader's comedic energy with something more solemn and with more gravitas, as opposed to matching him with Wiig who has a similar comedic energy. Wiig is miscast as Maggie because Maggie needs to be the polar opposite of Milo in order for the film to work, but Wiig is not far enough from Hader to pull it off, and the film feels out of balance because of it.
Another actor of note, Luke Wilson, has a supporting role as Maggie's fiancé, Lance. Wilson is really great. He is one of those actors that sort of gets overlooked, for a variety of reasons, but he never fails to do excellent work. Lance would be a caricature in lesser hands, but Wilson gives him great depth and humanity out of which comes the comedy. Wilson turns what could have been a throw away character into a terrific asset for the film.
Ty Burrell, another great actor, also has a supporting role but his story line seems under written and is more a distraction than anything else. That is not to say that the writing is poor. It isn't. The Skeleton Twins is one of those times when a script is actually much better than the final film. You can see the intricacy and great depths of the writing if you know where to look and look hard enough…the use of water symbology for example (clearing brush by the dam, Moby Dick, Scuba lessons, etc). The script indicates a complexity and artistic maturity that the film fails to rise up to. As previously stated, I think the casting of Wiig in the lead is the main obstacle to that aspiration. The problem, of course, is that the film probably only got financing because Wiig was starring in it. Combine that with a marketing campaign that highlights the Wiig/Hader comedy scenes and bills the film as "laugh out loud funny", and you can see how the business end of things has undermined the artistic. This is a shame, because underneath all of the surface comedy, there is a great film trying to get out. We just need both the business people, and the artistic people, to have the courage to make the version of this film where it is a drama that is at times funny, rather than a comedy which tries to be dramatic.
With all that said, I didn't hate The Skeleton Twins. It was fine. A wasted opportunity, but fine. Bill Hader was, as they say, a 'revelation'. It was nice to see Luke Wilson again. It was also great to be out of the heat for two hours. While there are better options to avoid heat stroke, there are also worse. So if you want to avoid death by heat suffocation, why not go see The Skeleton Twins? The life you save, could be your own.