By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — We already knew they were funny:  no surprise there.

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But the revelation in The Skeleton Twins is how adroit “Saturday Night Live” alumni Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are in their respective dramatic roles.

 

(3½ stars out of 4!)

(3½ stars out of 4!)

 

And dramatic roles are what they are, because if The Skeleton Twins isn’t quite pure drama, it’s at least dark dramedy.  (Or a melancomedy, perhaps?)

We are, the point is, a million miles from brief, knee-slapping, late-night-TV visits with Gilly and Stefon.  And as the paired title characters in The Skeleton Twins, Wiig and Hader absolutely shine.

They play estranged twins Maggie and Milo Dean, who are reunited at the beginning of the film when he’s hospitalized following a suicide attempt.

Milo is a struggling gay actor in Los Angeles working as a waiter and coming out of a busted romantic relationship, while Maggie is a married dental hygienist in her hometown of Nyack, a pastoral suburb of New York City.

The supreme and fortunate irony is that she was about to take a fistful of sleeping pills and take her own life when a telephone call from the hospital Milo had been taken to, informing her that he had tried to slit his wrists in the bathtub, interrupted her and saved her from herself.

Did I mention this was a drama?

Anyway, reunited with her womb-mate by near-tragedy, Maggie proceeds to the hospital in LA and persuades Milo to accompany her back east and move in with her and her husband, played by Luke Wilson, with whom she is involved in a marriage that is far less satisfactory than it might appear on the surface.

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So, back under the same roof after all this time, not having spoken for a decade, the siblings finally get the chance to reëstablish their obvious and umbilical bond.

The reason why Maggie and Milo have not had any contact at all is an important plot point, a childhood trauma that both connects and separates them, and that is only gradually revealed after being hinted at with a reference to what their father called them when they were kids: “the gruesome twosome.”

Wiig and Hader have an unforced chemistry throughout, their in-synch-ness demonstrated chiefly through the shorthand way in which they communicate.  And even when they resort to shtick, it’s persuasively presented as an understandable defense mechanism: this is, in other words, how they cope with sorrow and misery.

Both portray levels of emotional instability and arrested development with skillful modulation and nuance, nonetheless managing to smoothly incorporate bits that call for and utilize their ample and expected comedic gifts.

Hader has the showier role, with Wiig nonetheless matching him every step and utterance of the way.  But this is Hader’s showcase — don’t be surprised if he ascends to Hollywood’s ‘A’ list on the heels of this sparkler.

The secondary cast chips in valuable supporting turns as well, especially Wilson as Maggie’s easygoing, upbeat husband; Joanna Gleason as the twins’ self-absorbed, self-help-embracing mother; Ty Burrell as the older, closeted English teacher who was part of Milo’s romantic past; and Boyd Holbrook as an Australian scuba instructor to whom Maggie is drawn.

Craig Johnson, directing for only the second time (True Adolescents), works from the impressive character-driven screenplay that he co-wrote with Mark Heyman and that has lots of bitterly funny lines of dialogue and plenty of disarming insights.

We may leave wishing that a bit more family background had been brought into the foreground, but that’s a small price to pay for the stimulating company we find ourselves keeping.

So we’ll reconnect with 3½ stars out of 4The Skeleton Twins is an exceptionally subtle seriocomedy about suicide and depression, with Hader and Wiig coming up big as they paint a poignant, puckish portrait of the fraternal twins known as Sad and Funny.

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