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“Skeleton Twins:” Double Dysfunction

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REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER/For 21st Century Media

The dramedy “The Skeleton Twins” focuses on a family, whose members demonstrate a pronounced predilection towards depression. It stars two “Saturday Night Live” alums, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, as estranged twins.

Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader in a scene from "The Skeleton Twins," from Theskeletontwinsmovie.com.

Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader in a scene from “The Skeleton Twins,” from Theskeletontwinsmovie.com.

Maggie (Wiig) is staring at an overdose load of pills in her hand. The upstate New York dental hygienist is one big gulp away from attempting suicide. Implementation is interrupted by a telephone call from an emergency room nurse in Los Angeles. Maggie’s gay twin brother, Milo (Hader), a failed actor, has just been admitted to the hospital.
Apparently, Milo is one step ahead of Maggie. A nurse advises her that Milo has just slit his wrist. As part of this staged suicide, Milo has cranked up his stereo. It was so loud that an irritated neighbor contacted the building supervisor. When the super entered the apartment, he encountered Milo bleeding to death in the bathtub. Milo’s suicide attempt was foiled by the intervention by paramedics, who rushed him to the emergency room.
How do you like the premise? Is this coincidence sufficiently farfetched for you?
An examination of the screenplay exposes some immediate gaping holes in plausibility. Maggie and Milo are totally estranged. They haven’t spoken to one another in ten years. Milo left a glib suicide note. It said, “To whom it may concern. See you later,” followed by a smiley face icon. The farewell salutation epitomizes the misplaced sense of sardonic irony that drips all over this film.
Why did the emergency room nurse call Milo’s estranged sister rather than his mother? How would she even know how to contact Maggie? There is nothing in the text of the film to suggest that Milo had listed Maggie as an emergency contact. Moreover, since Milo hasn’t communicated with Maggie for 10 years, wouldn’t it be counterintuitive for him to have done so?
The next thing we know, Maggie has flown cross-country and is having an awkward bedside reunion with her recovering brother. The film fails to interject the slightest dramatic tension into the scene. Instead, Milo immediately goes into jokester mode. He quips, “Look at me, another tragic gay cliché.” Milo insists that he wasn’t really trying to commit suicide. Really dude? The razor scar on your wrist suggests otherwise.
Without any segue or ever addressing what prompted their estrangement, Maggie invites Milo to stay in the guest room in her home. She shares it with her husband, Lance (Luke Wilson). He has never met Milo. Lance is a super-nice, non-judgmental guy, who enthusiastically welcomes Milo into his home. Even when Milo becomes the house-guest from hell, Lance continues to tolerate his presence.
It turns out that both Milo and Maggie are big fat liars. We aren’t talking about innocuous white lies that they tell strangers. Their closest relationships are predicated on deceptions that they promulgate. Moreover, they are lying to themselves. Are these characters that we are expected to identify with?
The narrative of “The Skeleton Twins” is driven by the pivotal event that drove the twins apart. Is it really too much to expect the film to disclose what the key incident was? Instead, the film dwells on the long-simmering resentment that arose from an event that transpired during the twin’s adolescence. Milo’s high school English teacher, Rich (Ty Burrell from television’s “American Family”) targeted the 15-year old Milo for a series of surreptitious sexual liaisons. Maggie revealed this clandestine affair, which made Milo feel betrayed by her.
So … is this the event that drove them apart? The film’s timeline indicates otherwise. The twin siblings received matching skeleton tattoos. The cutoff for getting a tattoo is 18 years old. So the event that triggered the estrangement must have taken place after the twins reached that age.
“The Skeleton Twins” takes an equivocal stance on the issue of an adult high school teacher having sex with one of their students. In this case, the 15-year old student in question was friendless and lacked any parental support. He is struggling with sexual orientation issues and the fact that his father recently committed suicide. In short, he is an easy pickings for an adult teacher, who was on the prowl for a sexual interlude with an underage partner.
The film rationalizes this predatory conduct, suggesting that the teacher treated his student nicely and made him feel ever so special. Does that somehow justify taking advantage of an exquisitely vulnerable adolescent? Sexual predators routinely dote on prospective victims and engage in so-called grooming behavior to lure them into relationships that ultimately turn carnal. Apparently, such predatory behavior doesn’t offend the filmmakers.
“The Skeleton Twins” is a patently offensive film. It does a profound disservice to those who are plagued with depression and those who have been victims of sexual abuse. These subjects shouldn’t serve as fodder for a film with an intermittently jocular tone.
*1/2 R (for language, some sexuality and drug use) 93 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.

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