'The Skeleton Twins' review: This is how to make a funny movie about suicide
This indie gem should be a case study in the critical importance of casting and sharp writing. "SNL" alum Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are perfectly cast in this funny, moving and dark tale of depression, discontentment and suicide.
In short: A pair of estranged and desperately depressed twins (Wiig and Hader) reunite after attempting suicide the very same day. (Watch the trailer)
On paper, "Skeleton Twins" looks like a parody of overused indie drama conventions that usually belie a story that's just trying too hard. There's suicide, attempted suicide, an obnoxious mother, a dead parent, infidelity, estranged siblings, a strained marriage and past statutory rape. But the sum of this bleak comedy's parts overcomes its derivative components (seemingly built from the parts of lesser indie melodramas) because its core is grounded firmly in the emotional damage left in the horrific legacy of suicide.
The strongest single reason why "this films works" is the perfectly cast Wiig and Hader as twin siblings. Their chemistry, rapport and timing is impeccable - likely due to their years together on "SNL." For a film whose entire premise is founded the once intimate/now estranged relationship, Wiig and Hader are stellar as siblings who sincerely love each other and simultaneously resent each other.
Their chemistry piques in one of the very best movie scenes of 2014: a brilliant, hilarious and awesome Wiig-Hader lip-sync of Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now." It not only fits beautifully into this film - effectively defusing a stressful scene into one of pure silliness - the incredible duet articulates the once-close relationship these twins shared growing up.
The overall narrative of "Skeleton Twins" borders on slipping into unoriginal-indie-drama territory, but its sharp screenplay saves it from becoming an ignorable indie flick. These characters trade barbs and share a deep connection, and their interactions convey their out-of-sync and emotionally-in-sync relationship that sways organically from fun to sad to bitter. The script doesn't simply push the characters forward from scene to scene - it allows the characters to genuinely and awkwardly interact with each other in a meaningful way.
The fact that "Skeleton Twins" is a film whose central premise focuses on suicide, self-harm and self-loathing cannot be understated - and the fact that this is a truly hilarious comedy must also be called out. This film succeeds in mining laughs in the darkest pits of emotional despair - not by making light of suicide, but by allowing the characters to use humor to cope with their crippling depression.
Although the component elements of "The Skeleton Twins" is an amalgam of too many other indie flick cliches, this unconventional film stands out largely due to its spot-on casting, smart screenplay and executing a film that is sincere on every level.
Final verdict: Writer-director Craig Johnson offers up a lesson on how to base a comedy deeply rooted in depression and suicide. Wiig and Hader are brilliantly paired up in this (at times) grim and downcast tale that manages to find sincere laughs in some of the darkest recesses of mental illness.
"The Skeleton Twins" expands to more theaters nationwide Sept. 19 and is rated R for language, some sexuality and drug use.