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Family Wounds

Hader and Wiig push each other’s buttons in The Skeleton Twins
Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in The Skeleton Twins
Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in The Skeleton Twins

If nothing else, The Skeleton Twins taught me something I didn’t know: I might be willing to watch Bill Hader in anything. As depressed, off-kilter, semi-self-destructive Milo, Hader has a different sort of presence onscreen. His usual solidness transforms into something gawky and loose; when Milo describes himself as being built like a frog, he’s not wrong. A sturdy desperation lurks around Hader’s mild but expressive face. He’s always waiting for the other shoe to drop. In fact, he might be the one to drop it.

The other half of the titular twins is Maggie, played by Kristen Wiig as a woman growing more and more brittle in a life that doesn’t suit her. It’s unclear what sort of life would suit Maggie, who is pretending to be trying to get pregnant with her nice-dude husband Lance (a very game Luke Wilson) while secretly boning her scuba instructor. But there’s no joy in either of these pursuits. 

Milo and Maggie, who haven’t spoken for a decade, are brought together when Milo attempts suicide — the timing of this attempt conveniently stopping Maggie from trying the same thing. The Skeleton Twins’ understanding of its characters’ suicidal urges is slight, and not entirely convincing, not least because the attempt seems more a plot device than anything else — something that’s true of most of the heavy things the screenplay (by director Craig Johnson and co-writer Mark Heyman) tries to take on. The point is to get Maggie and Milo, and Hader and Wiig, in the same room, prickly and defensive, wounded and needy, and let them figure out how to connect without hurting each other. 

It’s when they’re pushing each other’s buttons, intentionally or un-, that the movie is at its best. When Maggie, wounded by a secret Milo’s been keeping, storms off from a Halloween party and yells back at Milo that she’d been having such a great night with him, her genuine pain encapsulates everything the movie wants to be: a story about the way the destructive and redemptive powers of family go hand in hand.

The Skeleton Twins is now playing at Bijou Art Cinemas.