Long-separated siblings Maggie (Kristen Wiig) and Milo (Bill Hader) reconnect in The Skeleton Twins (Roadside Attractions)


Take two of Saturday Night Live’s funniest alumni and cast them in a drama. And no ordinary drama, but one permeated with so much despair that each of their characters attempts suicide within the first few minutes.

That’s not exactly a formula for box-office success, which helps to explain why The Skeleton Twins is opening at only two Columbus theaters this weekend. Nor is it a surefire formula for artistic success, but that’s where the flick fools us.

This second feature by director Craig Johnson (True Adolescents) is astoundingly good. So are stars Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, who play siblings Maggie and Milo.

The troubled offspring of a father who killed himself and a mother who’s never there for them, the two been separated for the past 10 years due to an old grudge. They’ve spent that decade trying to build fulfilling lives—Milo as an aspiring actor in Los Angeles, Maggie as a dental technician and wife in their New York hometown—but both have failed to find happiness.

What’s worse, they’re so good at hiding their inner desperation that those around them have no idea what they’re going through. No one can understand them except each other, and they’ve been living in mutual exile.

Ironically, it’s Milo’s attempted suicide following a breakup with a gay lover that brings the sibs back together and gives them a chance to come to each other’s rescue. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Though they bond and reconnect in some ways, they remain strangers in others.

Maggie doesn’t tell Milo that news of his suicide attempt arrived just as she was about to end her own life. Nor does she let on that her marriage with Lance (Luke Wilson) is anything less than perfect, though it doesn’t take Milo long to figure that out for himself.

For his part, Milo doesn’t tell Maggie he’s trying to reconnect with Rich (Modern Family’s Ty Burrell), the closeted teacher who molested him when he was 15.

As good as Wiig and Hader are at exploring the nuances of their roles, it’s Johnson and Mark Heyman’s sensitive script that creates those nuances to begin with. Nor do the other characters come up short in the humanity department. With the possible exception of the self-involved mother (Joanna Gleason), all are written and portrayed with sympathy and understanding.

Beyond Milo and Maggie, the film’s most tragic figure may be Lance. Though at times he comes off as patronizing, we soon realize he’s a decent man who only wants to be a good husband to Maggie and a good father to the child he so fervently wants.

Why can’t Maggie be happy with him? Because, Milo tells her in one of the film’s more heartbreaking moments, maybe a warm and decent man isn’t what she needs.

The Skeleton Twins isn’t entirely without humor. There’s a delicious joke about Marley and Me, and there’s a scene involving nitrous oxide and flatulence that goes on surprisingly long.

Mostly, though, the film remains sober as it takes us on a painful journey through the lives of two people who refuse to admit just how much they need each other.


Rating: 4½ stars (out of 5)

The Skeleton Twins, rated R, opens Friday (Sept. 26) at the Gateway Film Center and the AMC Lennox Town Center 24 in Columbus.