Sister Kristen – The Skeleton Twins review (Sydney Film Festival)

The Skeleton Twins

By Simon Miraudo
June 7, 2014

Everyone’s doing it. Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort have done it. Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are about to do it. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader have just finished it. Call it Hollywood’s hottest and grossest new fad: incesting. It’s that thing where actors play both siblings and lovers on screen (though not in the same film, of course; there are still some standards in that modern-day Gomorrah).

Craig Johnson‘s The Skeleton Twins sees Saturday Night Live graduates Wiig and Hader star as brother and sister, following on from their work as an admittedly asexual married couple in Adventureland. (Completists would like me to note they also played mother and son in SNL‘s recurring ‘Vogelchecks’ sketch.) Following on from Woodley and Elgort’s meta-incestuality in Divergent and The Fault in our Stars, not to mention Olsen and Taylor-Johnson’s impending trek into the same abyss in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, where they’ll be Magneto’s mutant spawn, so soon after being man and wife in Godzilla, The Skeleton Twins makes this officially a trend. Who could have guessed it would become a more frequent occurrence than even Spider-Man reboots?

The Skeleton Twins

Hader and Wiig reveal long hidden talents in this dramedy, playing estranged twins who coincidentally attempt suicide on the same day. Hader’s Milo goes first, slitting his wrists in a bathtub after being dumped by his boyfriend. Wiig’s Maggie gets the call mere moments before swallowing a fatal amount of sleeping pills, giving her just enough of a reason to stay living a little longer. She heads to LA to be at Milo’s bedside, inviting him back to her suburban New York home, ending ten years of radio silence between them. At Maggie’s house, the duo falls into their old, easy habits, goofing around and engaging in an epic lip-sync of ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’. But eventually the reason for their initial divide rears its ugly head once again, and the two must confront exactly what sent them into a suicidal spiral to begin with.

Our two leads are better known for their larger than life caricatures, yet here their performances are restrained and effortless. With all due respect to their dowdy theme park operators from Adventureland, the pair has better chemistry as twins with an ingrained history. Wiig in particular is excellent as the fragile Maggie, unable to convey why it is she’s so unhappy with her nice-guy husband (Luke Wilson). Hader, so familiar as Stefon and so comfortable in his celebrity impressions, does well to defy expectations with a character whose complicated sexual history with a former teacher (Ty Burrell) has gone on to define, and destroy, so much of him.

Though the movie sometimes creaks under the weight of the genre’s tropes – metaphorical items (in this case, fish and childhood trinkets) treated like religious totems, and an ambiguous, bittersweet finale – it’s not nearly as insufferably cutesy as others of its kind. Johnson’s script keeps secrets hanging above the protagonists’ heads, dropping them at the most inopportune moments, and giving the plot some momentum despite the film largely being driven by Milo and Maggie merely remembering how to get along. Gentle, funny and very moving, The Skeleton Twins is too late to make stars out of the already-adored Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, but is just in time to prove they’ve got much more to give in their hopefully very long careers.

4/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

The Skelton Twins plays the Sydney Film Festival June 7 and 14, 2014. It arrives in Australian cinemas September 25.

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