“The Skeleton Twins” Casting Review

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

The Skeleton Twins is a prototypical indie film in all the best ways. Having made a critical splash at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the movie is a dark comedy about two estranged siblings who happen to share similar suicidal tendencies. Bill Hader plays “Milo”, a gay struggling actor, while Kristen Wiig plays his sister “Maggie”, a restless housewife with “whore-like tendencies” (Milo’s words, not mine). Right off the bat, you’re probably thinking that pairing former SNL alums Hader and Wiig are ingredients for comedic gold, and you’re not wrong about that. The two have undeniable chemistry, no doubt due to their longstanding history with each other, and their characters’ relationship carries the entire piece. Although the film certainly has its funny moments, it’s not as laugh-out-loud as one would expect, and that’s a good thing here, truly.

The story opens on Hader’s Milo, lonely and despondent as he slits his wrists in an attempt to end his life. Cut to Wiig’s Maggie, who is in her bathroom ready to down a hand full of pills, also ready to commit suicide. Did I mention that this movie is a dark comedy? Anyways, just before Maggie does the deed, she gets a call from the hospital notifying her that Milo was admitted for an attempt on his life. Although the siblings are estranged, Maggie flies out to Los Angeles to be with her brother, and eventually convinces him to come back with her to the East Coast, where she can help nurse him back to (mental) health. Maggie still lives in the town that she and her brother grew up in, so the trip is a definite homecoming for Milo, albeit a shell-shocked one.

The shell-shocked aspect of Milo’s homecoming is especially apparent when we meet the rest of the cast. Maggie is newly married to “Lance”, a kind, gentle, and somewhat dimwitted guy, and is played by Luke Wilson. Although Wilson has done his fair share of big studio films, he tends to truly shine in the independent film arena. He’s one of Wes Anderson’s “regulars”, and recently had a stint on HBO’s series Enlightened opposite Laura Dern. Maggie’s home life is further complicated when she reveals that there is another man in her life–her hot Australian scuba diving instructor “Billy”, played by American actor Boyd Holbrook. Side note: it’s great to finally see an AMERICAN actor play an AUSTRALIAN character. That’s something you don’t see very often in this day and age.

Getting back to the story–Milo has his own share of hometown drama as we are introduced to “Rich”, an old flame of Milo’s, who we eventually discover shares a dark and sordid history with him. Rich is played by Modern Family actor Ty Burrell, and the role, similar to Hader and Wiig, is a refreshing change of pace for the actor. Burrell’s Rich is complicated–at first, we think he’s just a former lover of Milo’s who happens to be in the closet and working at the local bookstore, but as the story unfolds, we discover how deep their relationship runs. Before working at the bookstore, Rich was a high school teacher . . . Milo’s teacher to be more exact. The two began seeing each other in secret, which, like most relationships of this ilk, ended in scandal and controversy.

The cast in The Skeleton Twins is kept to a minimum, which helps the narrative keep it’s focus on Milo and Maggie’s relationship, which is the driving force and crux of the film.  Although Maggie initially brings Milo home in an effort to take care of him, we soon discover that Maggie needs Milo just as much as he needs her–if not more so. As the two begin to heal and reestablish their relationship, Milo comes to learn the true extent of Maggie’s situation. Despite having a loving husband in Lance, Maggie just is not happy in her marriage, which results in her having numerous affairs with other men, the one with her scuba instructor Billy being the most recent. On top of the affairs, Maggie is also lying to Lance about her desire to have children with him. On the surface, they are trying to get pregnant, but in actuality, Maggie is taking birth control pills.

Given the amount of secrets and drama brewing between the characters, the film’s story naturally comes to a head when the truth finally comes out. Maggie learns that Milo and Rich have started spending time with each other again, a fact that infuriates her. Maggie was the one that initially learned of their relationship in high school and, consequently, was the one that told their parents about it. Maggie always believed she did what was best for her brother, which is why the thought of Milo hooking up with his former teacher disgusts her so much. Of course, turnabout is fair play, and in an effort to also do the right thing, Milo tells Lance about Maggie’s birth control pills, forcing a confrontation between the married couple. Maggie reveals all during her talk with Lance and she confesses that on top of not wanting to have a child with him, she’s cheated on him with several different men.

Unfortunately, like most indie films, things don’t always have a happy ending, and that is definitely the case here. It’s brutal having to watch Lance learn of his wife’s betrayal–especially considering that he did absolutely nothing wrong. If you had to name one blameless victim in this entire story, it would be him. Wilson always creates honest and likeable characters, so his performance here is all the more raw because of it. Milo and Rich don’t get a happy ending either, and although they clearly have strong feelings for each other, Rich just won’t come out of the closet and can’t commit to making any drastic life changes, which ultimately forces Milo away.

The fact that The Skeleton Twins uses suicide as a thematic motif in the story only further accentuates the film’s melancholic tendencies. Besides Milo and Maggie having suicidal tendencies, the story reveals that their father killed himself when they were young. The act of suicide then becomes a kind of coping mechanism to escape from one’s problems–a recurring theme that Milo and Maggie are constantly struggling with. At the film’s end, Maggie once again finds herself not being able to deal with the state of her life, and resorts to suicide to get away from it all. Thankfully, Milo is able to save his sister this time and help show her that instead of trying to run away from their problems, they need to rely on others for help and support.

Needless to say, the film’s subject matter alone is probably the darkest you’ve seen from the likes of Hader and Wiig. Wiig has definitely been expanding the range of characters she’s been playing, having played more serious roles in films like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Girl Most Likely, but this space is definitely more new for Hader, whose previous work has mainly been in the comedic space. Once again, Hader and Wiig truly shine in this indie gem and readily show that they have the gravitas to pull off darker, more intense roles. The fact that they also happen to be excellent at comedy  boosts their overall credibility, making them even more sought after (if that was even possible). Their work in this film should also help to encourage more and more comedic actors to make similar forays outside their comfort zones, since it’s always fun to see new and different sides of actors. Jonah Hill has done it with his recent string of stellar dramatic performances (for which he has received critical acclaim), and even Vince Vaughn is gearing up to tap into his dark side since he was recently set to star in season 2 of HBO’s hit drama True Detective.

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Kyle