The first time I heard of The Skeleton Twins was right at the beginning of the year, when I discovered Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig made an indie comedy together. I thought it was too good to be true – after all, when people have such undeniable chemistry and brilliance together like Hader and Wiig had on Saturday Night Live for years, it seems like a pipe dream. However, clearly the planets do occasionally align, and thus The Skeleton Twins were born.
I will admit that when I heard about it, I thought it would be a hilarious, gut-busting comedy that we’d expect from the unbelievably funny Saturday Night Live veterans – however, it turns out it was the complete opposite – it was a far more sedated comedy, which was punctuated with some really intense drama. It touches on a topic that everyone seems to have an opinion of, and most of all the film industry – depression and suicide. It is one of the first films I have ever seen that actually addresses it in a much more humane and sophisticated way – films tend to make depressed people sulking, lifeless zombies, when in fact many of them are fully capable of being happy, but feeling an empty sensation regarding life. It handles the topic in such a tender and calm way, it portrays the epidemic in a light hardly ever shown in movies. Films like this and Silver Linings Playbook address mental illness in a very quirky way, showing them in all seriousness, but adding a lot of idiosyncratic comedy to the film, making it the epitome of an intelligent comedy, one that addresses a terribly tragic subject in a very entertaining, but thoughtful, way.
Can we talk about how brilliant Hader and Wiig were in this? Nearly a decade of playing these broad, outrageous characters on Saturday Night Live and in mainstream comedies (such as the brilliant Bridesmaids, for which Wiig received an Academy Award nomination for her script), they have shown off their true acting talents in this film. They are still very funny, but most of all, they do something we have never seen them do before – they play truly and painfully human characters. There is nothing extraordinary or traditionally different about them – they are just two people, brother and sister, who are navigating the life of depression, hopelessness and their futures. Also in the film is Ty Burrell, who goes from playing the adorably goofy Phil Dunphy in Modern Family to a much more dramatic role as Hader’s ex-lover. It is actually unbelievable that these three people who come from the world of broad comedy can do something so nuanced and restrained. It truly speaks to the perfect combination of the actors and their dedication to creating these characters, and the script they were given to work with.
Milo (Hader) left to go to Los Angeles to be an actor, but ended up being a waiter. Maggie (Wiig) ended up in a happy but unfulfilled marriage with a goofy everyman. In the very first scene of the film, both of them attempt suicide. Neither of them succeed, and after a decade of being estranged, they find themselves being together again, and addressing their pasts and the mistakes they made. There is not much else to the story – it is a simple in story, complex in delivery. These characters are not cardboard cut-out characters. Actually, quite the contrary. Like with most independent films of this nature, a lot of effort is put into making these characters complicated and enigmatic figures. What The Skeleton Twins succeeds in that many others don’t is the fact that they actually achieve this, but also manage to make the characters likable. Traditionally (by mainstream standards) these characters are nasty and bitter and unlikable, and have no redeeming qualities. The characters are actually extraordinarily likable in a very real way – they might not be the most pleasant characters, but they are realistic representations of people going through the exact same situations. The film is such a realistic and complex portrayal of the subject matter, it can be considered great just on that, but the merits of this film far exceed just the story.
I really enjoyed The Skeleton Twins, most of all because it set out to be what it needed to be, and stayed that way throughout. It promised to be a quirky, but melancholic, story about depression, suicide and the ultimate silver lining that is always there if we just look hard enough. It never once strayed into falsely sentimental or unrealistic territory, and it stays firmly within the parameters of a simple independent comedy. It is an effective and wonderfully sweet movie based just on the efforts to make it as realistic and simple as possible, because showing a story in the most candid, exposed and simple way often allows us to explore the world more deeply and find hidden meanings in the story and perhaps realize that the deepest stories are the ones that show us the least.
I loved The Skeleton Twins. It is one of the best films of the year. Simple, melancholic, effective and very often, really funny. It is dark in places, and never dares to shy away from the honest truth about the subject matter. It is a wonderful film, and one that no doubt will help anyone feeling down or depressed. Life is worth living, we just need to realize that and find our own silver lining. An extraordinary film