Saturday, September 27, 2014

Bill Hader And Kristen Wiig Excel As THE SKELETON TWINS

Now playing at an indie art house near me:


(Dir. Craig Johnson, 2014)

Former Saturday Night Live cast member Bill Hader has been in dozens of movies since 2006, but other than voicing the lead character in the CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS movies, most have been bit parts with credits like “Man at Store” or “Recumbent Biker” or brief cameos. 

Now Hader gets to carry a film in the flesh, along with co-star (and former SNL collegue) Kristen Wiig, in Craig Johnson’s second feature film THE SKELETON TWINS opening today at an indie art house near me.

Hader and Wiig star as Milo and Maggie, a couple of long estranged twins who get back in touch after both coincidentally attempt suicide on the same day. So yeah, it’s a darkly comic drama.

Wiig’s Maggie invites her brother to stay with her and her husband (Luke Wilson in “bro mode”) at their Nyack, New York home, until he can get back on his feet after being hospitalized for slashing his wrists (her attempt involving almost taking an overdose of pills she keeps secret).

Despite Wilson’s super nice guy demeanor, Wiig has been sleeping with others (most recently her douche scuba instructor played by Boyd Holbrook), and is taking birth control pills while her husband thinks they’re trying to have a baby. Again, this is info she keeps to herself so that she can seem to be the stable sister, while she treats her brother like a “special needs kid,” as Hader’s Milo puts it.

Meanwhile Hader purposely runs into his former high school English teacher (Modern Fmaily’s Ty Burrell in a neatly nuanced performance), now working at a bookstore. Burrell, a conflicted, closeted man, had seduced Hader when he was his student and lost his job over the inappropriate relationship.

One of the most amusing sequences in the film concerns Johanna Gleason, a veteran of a few Woody Allen films and just about every sitcom in the last 30 years, as Hader and Wiig’s mother, a neglectful mother turned New Age guru, being invited for dinner by Hader to Wiig’s chagrin. The twins’ father had committed suicide when they were 14, and their mother appears to have checked out of parenting as a result. This makes for a realistically edgy and awkward, as well as wickedly funny, dinner scene that anybody with tension in their family can relate to.

Another standout scene has Hader and Wiig clowning around on nitrous oxide at the dental office she works at. Their SNL training most prepared them for this bit, which proves that a comedy drama about suicide can effectively fit in fart jokes.

It’s a joy to see this very believable brother and sister pairing come together to lip synch and dance to Starship’s “Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now,” even if you can’t stand the song, and when they fight towards the end of the film – really taking it all out at each other – their acting is so sharp that I felt like I was violating their privacy watching them.

Hader has shown time and time again that he’s a first class impressionist, and a reliably goofy presence in many projects, but his performance as Milo is a career best that shows the layers of depth the actor has to share. It recalls his former SNL co-star Will Forte’s fine dramatic work in NEBRASKA last year, and makes me want to see more of these funny folks try on more serious roles.

Wiig has carried movies before - most notably her breakthrough 2010 comedy smash BRIDESMAIDS – but this may be my favorite of her screen roles. Wiig’s Maggie is a sad mess of a human being, as screwed up as her brother (possibly more even) that has a real feeling sense of humor, but the worried look in her eyes gives her inner torment away. Her character’s turns late in the film are heartbreaking, and a little hard to watch, but Wiig movingly pulls it off beautifully.

THE SKELETON TWINS is a well made, well written (it well deserved the Screenwriting Award that director Johnson and co-writer Mark Heyman won at Sundance), and extremely well acted film that may very well make my top 10 list of the year’s best. It’s also the most emotionally charged movie starring a couple of SNL cast members since…well, ever.

More later...

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