Film review: THE SKELETON TWINS, from Built For Speed

Mark Heyman, who wrote the script for Black Swan, seems fascinated with emotionally damaged people desperately trying to cope with or conceal personal disappointments, family trauma and the wounds of their past.  He has collaborated with writer/ director Craig Johnson and producers the Duplass brothers, who produced the wonderfully melancholic romantic fantasy Safety Not Guaranteed to give us the unsettling, insightful, low-budget family drama The Skeleton Twins.

The twins of the title are 30-something brother and sister Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) whose family was torn apart by their father’s suicide years earlier and who as adults, have drifted apart.  When Milo attempts suicide Maggie invites him to recuperate at the home she shares with her slightly gormless husband Lance (Luke Wilson). Milo’s arrival is the catalyst for Maggie to reassess her life and her relationship with Lance.  Milo also feels compelled to confront his troubled past, his struggles with high school homophobia and his previous ill-advised relationship with an older man.

This is a typical low-budget American indie dramas: quirky yet sensitive, leisurely paced and full of characters on the fringes of white suburbia trying to find their place in the world and/or cope with unsatisfying relationships.  It’s an amusing and thoughtful but oddly familiar film.

As Milo and Maggie, Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig have a wonderful chemistry as they effortlessly capture the tacit understanding and juvenile shared humour siblings have. Milo is at first extremely obnoxious and arrogant but to Hader’s credit he helps us to slowly warm to the character.  Kristin Wiig is typically wonderful, infusing Maggie with both zany humour and touching introspection. Luke Wilson at first seems a little too much of an amiable dope but he slowly reveals compelling layers to his character. Modern Family’s Ty Burrell has a brief but effective supporting role as a figure from Milo’s past. In an unintentionally comical performance (at least for Australian audiences) Boyd Holbrook plays Maggie’s Aussie scuba instructor with one of the least convincing Aussie accents of recent cinema.

The film suffers some script problems as it makes odd tonal shifts from melancholic drama to quirky comedy and leaves loose threads dangling regarding both Milo and Maggie’s past and present.  These flaws, thankfully don’t damage the film too much.

The Skeleton Twins is not the most original or revelatory piece of film-making this year but it contains enough funny and moving moments to provide a pleasing if not thrilling night at the cinema.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Comedy/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Craig Johnson.

Release date: 25th September 2014

Running time: 93 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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