The Skeleton Twins (15)****
Estranged siblings confront the demons of their tragic past in Craig Johnson’s hilarious and heart-rending comedy about keeping it in the family, where ‘it’ includes suicide, deception and inappropriate sexual liaisons.
Co-written by Mark Heyman, The Skeleton Twins is a small, yet perfectly formed, character study blessed with eye-catching performances from Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as the titular offspring, whose relationship has mouldered in the years since their father leapt off a bridge.
This unexplained death hangs over the film like a ghoulish spectre and provides the catalyst for the eventual disintegration of the characters’ dysfunctional family.
Johnson’s film confronts his protagonists’ grief and guilt with sensitivity, tackling thorny issues of self-loathing and infidelity with a pleasing comedic edge to encourage us, as well as the characters, to giggle through the tears.
Dental hygienist Maggie Dean (Wiig) receives a telephone call from a hospital in Los Angeles.Her brother Milo (Hader) is recovering after a failed attempt to slit his wrists in the bath.
Maggie collects Milo and spirits her brother back to their New York hometown where she lives with her outdoorsy husband Lance (Luke Wilson), who is looking forward to raising a family.
‘I can’t wait to be the creepy gay uncle!’ grins Milo impishly.
The Skeleton Twins is galvanised by the electrifying on-screen chemistry of the lead actors.
Hader is particularly captivating in a multi-faceted role that requires him to reveal the chinks of regret and despair behind the twinkly facade of his acerbic court jester. A fractious exchange between the siblings and their neglectful New Age mom (Joanna Gleeson) doesn’t ring entirely true but it’s a simple and effective method of explaining Maggie’s reluctance to have children of her own.
Johnson deftly navigates the film’s choppy emotional waters and doesn’t pretend for a moment that his characters’ woes can be salved in 90 minutes.
Indeed, some wounds are so deep and raw, they will never heal.