Suicide is often a difficult topic to include and explore in mainstream films. Unlike accidental deaths, which seem to be a plot twist in so many movies, suicide is rarely depicted on screen, and when it is, it easily comes under criticism because of the way it’s shown and the meaning it is trying to create.
The Skeleton Twins is not one of those films. Within the opening few minutes, we see Milo Dean (Bill Hader), a failed gay Los Angeles actor, attempt suicide by slashing his wrists and lying in a bathtub. It’s not explicit or visceral, but certainly a shocking and sharp way to begin.
Meanwhile his twin sister, Maggie (Kristen Wiig), is about to swallow a handful of pills when she receives a phone call notifying her of her brother’s attempted suicide. It’s a quietly funny moment, and a perfect example of how comedy and drama can intersect, particularly with the heavy topic of suicide.
Reuniting for the first time in ten years, Milo comes to live with Maggie and her “perfect” husband, Lance (Luke Wilson), in their New York hometown. Returning back to where everything first began, so return all the past memories. Dark secrets and raw emotions soon pervade each character as they attempt to deal with their own personal demons – for the first time, together.
Rife with flashbacks and moments of awkward silences, the comedic and dramatic interplay of The Skeleton Twins renders it a story of two emotionally complex siblings who are struggling to move on with their lives. Focusing on the emotional nuances of each character and their journey to understanding, it’s the portrayal of both Maggie and Milo that makes the film soar.
Hader and Wiig are superb as the two disturbed siblings, both suffering and unhappy with their lives. Both having worked together on Saturday Night Live, there’s a clear connection between the two which can be felt on screen. The honesty of the film and how it deals with themes of depression, family estrangement and sexual abuse is refreshing and not exploitative.
The morbid sense of humour and poignancy elevates The Skeleton Twins beyond just a black comedy. Though the film can feel contrived and predictable at times, the darkness of the story never overshadows the light, making it unforgettable. What remains is a serious and moving family drama film that should be seen.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10
Originally published on The Reel Word, 23 September, 2014.
Watch the trailer for The Skeleton Twins below: