Friday, May 24, 2024

Movie Review: “The Skeleton Twins”

To paraphrase a classic epigram from “Arsenic and Old Lace,” suicide doesn’t run in the family of Maggie and Billy, the main characters in “The Skeleton Twins;” it gallops.

When we meet them at the beginning of the film, these once-inseparable siblings are estranged, approaching middle age, and fatherless, ever since their dad took his own life some time ago. Billy, a wannabe actor, cranks a Blondie song on his stereo, scribbles a perfunctory note on the side of a torn envelope, slits his wrist and sinks into his bathtub. Halfway across the country, Maggie is staring at her own bathroom vanity, about to gulp down a handful of lethal pills when she receives a call from the hospital: Her brother, whom she hasn’t seen in 10 years, has just been rescued from his self-inflicted wound and is recuperating in a hospital.

The best solution for these two tortured souls? Cohabitate in Maggie’s New York City home, and hopefully reach a truce with Life.

“The Skeleton Twins” is not perfect; the ending, which strains for a full-circle climactic callback, is too improbable to accept. But otherwise, this sophomore feature from writer-director Craig Wright is an unusually observant and deeply reflective portrait of middle-class malaise, addressing universal themes of drift and disappointment with smart, economic and truthful writing that may very well be remembered come Oscar time. But what makes the story all the more special is its cast, namely the quartet of funny people who excel at everyday drama with remarkable subtlety.

As Billy and Maggie, “SNL” alumni Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig fully capture their characters’ tortured souls—and certainly their scabrous, dry wit, which burbles to the surface in their occasional reprieves from depression—with shades of nuance that “SNL,” in all its broad simplicity, could never forecast. “The Skeleton Twins” does for these two under-utilized talents what “Nebraska” did for Will Forte.

But just as impressive is the work of Ty Burrell, the likable if familiar stock character in “Modern Family,” who is gifted a meaty supporting role as a teacher with a repressed secret. Burrell’s performance, coupled with Wright’s sensitive direction, elevates what could have been a one-dimensional villain into a three-dimensional character that earns our pity.

The best praise, though, is reserved for Luke Wilson, another funnyman whose best roles, from “The Royal Tenenbaums” to HBO’s “Enlightened,” hug an uncomfortable border between drama and comedy. So too is his turn in “The Skeleton Twins” as Maggie’s husband Lance, the sort of energetic, square, well-adjusted bro who calls people “chief” and “amigo” and who wears douche-y shoes and eats syrupy pancakes with his hands. But he’s also a sweet, funny, caring guy who deserves better than his deceitful spouse. In a lesser movie, he would be an object of ridicule, but Wright avoids judging any of his characters—and when Wilson finally draws out his character’s pathos, the film is never so moving.

“The Skeleton Twins” opens today at Cinemark Palace and Living Room Theaters in Boca Raton, Muvico Parisian in West Palm Beach, Cobb Downtown at the Gardens in Palm Beach Gardens, the Classic Gateway Theater in Fort Lauderdale, AMC Aventura 24, Regal South Beach 18, and the Coral Gables Art Cinema.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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