After seven seasons sharing the stage on Saturday Night Live and bringing us zany characters like The Target Lady and Stefon (or, my particular favorites, Karina and Devon from “The Californians”), Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader have moved on. Fortunately for us, they’re not only moving on together but in a film as brilliantly close to perfection as The Skeleton Twins.
As suicidal siblings Maggie and Milo (zany characters no more!) who reunite after being estranged for ten years, Wiig and Hader turn in masterful breakthrough performances… which, I’ll admit, is an odd statement, since they’ve both been turning in plenty of quality work for the better part of a decade. But this is one of those rare moments when you see an actor (or two) and think to yourself, “Wow. Who knew?”
Maggie is stuck in a bland wedding to harmless goofball Lance (Owen Wilson), who wants kids but is unaware that Maggie has a stash of birth control pills hidden in the bathroom. And she’s also busy making googly-eyes at her scuba instructor.
What brings Maggie and Milo back together is Milo’s suicide attempt, hot on the heels of a breakup with his long-term boyfriend and also (most likely) because of some lingering scars from a family secret that gets revealed later on.
Sophomore director Craig Johnson (True Adolescents), who also co-wrote the script, has created an instant classic—a film that never actually feels like a film; instead it comes through as an honest, unflinching, and unapologetic glimpse at these two people’s dysfunctional lives. (Take a note, This Is Where I Leave You— THIS is how you do dysfunction.) Not a minute of The Skeleton Twins feels forced or unnecessary, from the tiniest details (Maggie’s ironic ringtone is the Growing Pains TV theme) to the biggest scenes (I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a moment more at the movies this year than when Maggie and Milo lip-sync Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”).
Through it all, The Skeleton Twins takes us on a wonderful and unexpected roller coaster ride of emotion, from the lowest of lows to the highs of absolute giddiness. But the biggest, most welcome surprise is that Hader and Wiig, who spent so much of their careers hamming it up, are able to so perfectly and delicately make us laugh and cry with what seems like so very little effort.
The Skeleton Twins is now at or near the top of my Best of 2014 list, but it will likely come and go from theaters (the few that will actually show it) with negligible fanfare. Quite frankly, that’s a damn shame—because this, folks, is how movies should be done.