Review: ‘The Skeleton Twins’ Is a Nice Time with Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, But Lacks Depth

The Skeleton TwinsLionsgate via Everett Collection

I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to get past the fact that Bill Hader’s name is Milo. This was the forerunner of a number of elements that seemed to introduce The Skeleton Twins as an aggressively “Sundancey” picture: Hader and Kristen Wiig, estranged siblings living a country apart, both attempt suicide at the precise same moment, executing their mirror glowers and macabre goodbye letters in nearly perfect harmony; it’s that combination of dark and cute on which a generation of independent film was founded. But once the distance is mended — Maggie (Wiig) is brought to the bedside of her hospitalized brother — Skeleton Twins finds its pulp: the chemistry between the titular sibs.

A film like Skeleton Twins rests its weight on whether or not its principal characters can be believed (and loved) as family. Where many fail, Twins strikes gold: we’ve seen Hader and Wiig play husband and wife, Californian lovers, game show host and incompetent contestant, and phone sex perpetrators rivaling for the vocal company of Joaquin Phoenix, but history does not dissuade entry into what makes for a touching, challenging fraternity in this film.

The Skeleton TwinsLionsgate via Everett Collection

Individually, their performances sparkle too. Hader is fun as the frustrated, pithy fish-out-of-water (back in his hometown, appropriately) failed actor Milo, and Wiig duly charming as a woman suffocated by her marriage to the impossibly nice Lance (Luke Wilson, being tolerable). But it’s the togetherness — and the film’s permission to let the old friends play to their hearts’ content — that wins us over. The banter, the shtick, the “up” moments.

But this dynamic chemistry comes at a price: Hader and Wiig are so effortlessly good together, we find it difficult to believe they ever might have let the years pass by without contact. Each is so readily funny that it is difficult to understand what brought them both to suicide at the film’s dawn. Skeleton Twins is so good at the up moments that it practically uproots the down, rendering its emotional core something of a nonentity.

Still, Skeleton Twins lives up to its principal promise: a funny, sweet, more or less impressive platform for Hader and Wiig. They show off what we love about them and what we’ve long hoped we’d get to see, leaving plenty of room for growth in the next optimistic installment. And, miraculously, they manage to overcome the anchors of a movie that introduces itself as insistently “indie” as this one does.