When I was a kid, everything was so exciting that I never wanted to stop to pee. I didn’t want to lose an up or down on the teeter-totter, miss my turn at kickball, or waste time that I could better spend training the bluegill I caught for the fish circus I was planning.
So, I’d cross my legs or squeeze my wiener and pretend I could wait. My mom always knew, though. And when she knew, she’d say, “I can see your skeleton dancing.”
I’d deny it, but she was always right. A few minutes later she’d smugly say, “Now I can see that your skeleton wet your pants.”
That anecdote has nothing to do with the movie The Skeleton Twins. It’s the sort of cute anecdote you see in books about parenting, except this one really happened to me and I turned out pretty fucked up. So, if you do find a book with that story in it, it’s probably a terrible book to use to raise a child, and you should let me know so I can sue the author. But even though this has nothing to do with the movie I saw, I’d go to a movie about people who needed to pee really bad. It would be better than The Skeleton Twins.
It’s a crappy movie; 90 minutes of indie cliche horseshit. It’s a heaping serving of self-indulgent navel-gazing pretending to be something deeper, something beyond the grasp of writer Mark Heymann and co-writer/director Craig Johnson to understand or show. The Skeleton Twins ultimately has nothing to say, despite how hard it's trying.
The story is a dramedy (and I mean that in the most insulting way I can) about suicidal twins (Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader), bound by their closeness as children, who share a father who killed himself and a mother who, apparently is bad at mothering. They are separated in adulthood on opposites sides of the country until
Milo (Hader) tries to kill himself in California and Maggie (Wiig) invites him into her home in upstate new York, into the marriage she’s crapped on like a diaper, and the life she is barely clinging to herself, in the city of their childhood. It’s a city where each of them has skeletons in the closet (get it?).
The moping suicidals story is strung along with the thinnest of plots. It’s really more like a series of sketches featuring Saturday Night Live characters written by Sylvia Plath, and it has that bad sketch feel of running out of gas before ending. Someone thought
of a couple of characters but didn’t know what to do with them. Yet, in its final scene, Heymann and Johnson reward themselves with an unearned redemption that I saw coming ten minutes into the movie.
Sadness, in itself, isn’t interesting. But bad writers love to write about sadness because it feels more profound to them. The truth is that misery isn’t inherently more poignant than joy. It’s just easier. Think of the girl in high school who was perpetually sad and expected attention and pity because of it. Now you have the idea behind so many shitty indie movies. Wallowing in misery lets people with nothing to say imply some secret, or some ungodly burden of responsibility or regret, that weighs their characters down, without doing the hard work of actually making characters worth caring about.
So, bad writers write flat, drab and sad, characters, characters with secrets that are either unexplained or are so trite that it would be better if they were left unknown. Talk to that high school girl and you’ll find out her problems are no worse than yours, she’s just better at amplifying.
And there you have The Skeleton Twins. It’s a movie reaching for the bottom of the well of regret in hopes of bringing up a bucket of tears, only Heymann and Johnson haven’t made enough rope. They haven’t made the characters worthy of the pity they expect us
to give. There is little context to Milo and Maggie’s unhappiness beyond pop psychology shit about “A dead dad be bad.”
And the movie is so myopic and insular that it fails to even place them in the world. They are inconsequential. That scene of the dental office? It’s the only reference to Maggie’s job. She is miserable with her decent-guy husband of two years. Yet, we don’t know what she once saw in him or what came before their marriage. The bad mom is trotted out for one awkward, unpleasant scene where she’s such a caricature that it’s like she’s from an even worse movie, like something starring Ben Stiller and Barbra Streisand. Milo is a failed actor working as a waiter, but there is nothing actorly about him. He doesn’t even seem to give a shit about acting, or about anything. He tried to kill himself because he was broken-hearted, but the memory of the ex-boyfriend never comes up, neither does any suggestion that he may still be suicidal. No, now he’s just back to mopey. In fact, neither of these characters has a single trait beyond his or her enormous capacity for moping.
Still, while every scene ends with the twins unhappy, they do score a few laughs along the way. In particular, a scene in the dental office where Maggie works lets Hader and Wiig poke their heads out from under the Morrissey-thick wool blanket of self-pity to crack a few jokes.
I like Bill Hader. He can be funny and a good actor. Look at him in Adventureland. Hell, just look at that movie as an example of how fucked up people can be funny without wallowing in muck. I also like Kristen Wiig. She can be funny too, even if the roles for funny women are really shitty and mostly only think it’s funny to make them batshit crazy. She’s just pretty enough to make every guy think he is the only one who finds her attractive. She’s modest enough to make guys think maybe she doesn’t know she’s cute and has low enough self-esteem to say yes to losers like them. As much as I like the actors, though, both are straitjacketed in this movie, forced to mope through it.
The Skeleton Twins is more of the same bullshit indie movie sadness. It’ll appeal to the same dumbasses who hung around the teary-eyed girl in high school, but not to the sad girl herself. Just like the movie, she’s too busy admiring how great she is at being pathetic. Two Fingers.