Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

Film: The Skeleton Twins (2014)
Stars: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell
Director: Craig Johnson
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

In my opinion, there aren't enough movies out there about siblings, particularly ones that explore the sibling dynamic as adults.  I hate to say this in case you're an only child out there (since you likely won't quite get it), but a sibling relationship is bizarre in that you both share so many things from birth.  You are both (likely) loved by the same parents, live in the same house, go to the same schools, experience similar punishments and troubles.  You have your own language and set of experiences that only you share.  There's a weird sort of competitive nature to your relationship that always exists even if you tend to embrace it more as you get older, rather than let it dictate your relationship.  And there's a love between siblings that is bizarrely unique.  Your parents or children you love instantly, your spouses you love as a result of working toward it-your siblings you love out of a shared history, out of a realization that you will never be quite as similar to someone else in your short time on this rock (and in my case, because my sibling is awesome).

(Spoilers Ahead) This is why I was so excited to see The Skeleton Twins, the rare film this time of year that I'm not seeing because it's clearly going to be in the hunt for some end-of-the-year accolades (so many films are Oscar threats right about now that I'm positive by the end of the year I'll be going broke, and I get that feeling every Oscar season).  The movie is about Maggie (Wiig) and Milo (Hader), two siblings who haven't spoken in ten years, though we don't learn why until toward the end of the film.  The opening scene is on Milo unsuccessfully attempting suicide.  It's a pretty disturbing sequence in a film that seems extremely pre-occupied with suicide and the ramifications of it (despite the way the film has been marketed, this is not a comedy-it's a drama with comedic elements).  We learn pretty early on that both of these two siblings are haunted by suicide, as their father committed it when they were fourteen, and they had a mother who basically abandoned them.  As a result, Milo has severe esteem issues and Maggie is paranoid that she cannot be a good mother, and constantly sabotages her relationship with her standup husband Lance (Wilson) through lying and adultery.

The movie's at its best when it's exploring their relationship with each other, both the warm and the prickly.  There's a scene toward the middle of the movie where Milo invites their mother (Joanna Gleeson in a very strong cameo) over and we see the cruelty that comes from a mother who clearly didn't want anything to do with her children.  The entire scene is brilliantly acted between Gleeson and Wiig, who manages to cut her mother pretty harshly, trying to get under the skin of someone who is too uninterested in her own children to really care.  This scene is complimented later in the movie when Milo and Maggie lip synch the Starship classic "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" (random fact: this was an Oscar-nominated hit from Mannequin), showing that being with a sibling is a bit like riding a bicycle: you never forget the in jokes.

The movie's side stories aren't quite as strong, particularly Wiig's.  We see her constantly sabotaging her relationship with Lance by sneaking birth control pills and sleeping with random men, but we don't quite get why she keeps doing it when she clearly doesn't want to, particularly with the adultery.  I also didn't like the complete predictability of her finally (for good this time!) giving up her scuba instructor lover and then getting caught just when she's in the clear, which felt like a filmic cliche.

The plot behind Milo was considerably more interesting, with him seeking out a former teacher named Rich who had an affair with Milo when he was fifteen shortly after his dad died.  There's a very stunning scene later on in the film where it's painted pretty clearly that these two saw their relationship disintegrate when Maggie told the school about Rich's affair with her brother, and that Milo has a very misguided interpretation of the affair even as an adult.

The film ends in a bit of a predictable nature considering that up until then some of the directions (particularly the shocker regarding their falling out) had not been something we'd seen coming.  Maggie decides to commit suicide, and then is saved by her brother.  It's an ending that's supposed to mirror the beginning, but at that point in the plot we have moved beyond the catalyst to their reunion, and should be working on a different level of recovery.  Still, though, there's enough interesting things said about Maggie and Milo's relationship (and a strong chemistry between former SNL castmates Hader and Wiig) to make this movie a worthwhile investment.

Those were my thoughts on the film-what are yours?  Do you agree that the film had some strong points, even if it didn't always deliver on them?  What is your favorite movie about sibling relationships?  And do you like the direction that Wiig and Hader have taken their post-SNL careers?  Share in the comments!

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