The Skeleton Twins review: Making no bones about the schmaltz

The Skeleton Twins
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Director: Craig Johnson
Cert: 15A
Genre: Drama
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell
Running Time: 1 hr 32 mins

Craig Johnson’s serious comedy is very much the type of the film that Generation X members make as, following trips to the Sundance lab, they ponder the arrival of middle age. You know the sort of thing. There will be a scene that finds the two self-absorbed heroes lying on the ground philosophising to the ceiling above. Murmured dialogue will address the emptiness of their lives.

Most importantly, some awful power ballad from the 1980s will be reclaimed in a supposedly rousing dance number. Here it's Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now by Starship and against the odds Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, the troubled twins of the title, really make something of the bloated number. Noël Coward was onto something with his quip about the potency of cheap music and the siblings' mimed duet communicates a great deal about childhood efforts to find distractions from family crises.

Hader plays struggling, gay actor Milo who, following a failed suicide attempt, is forced to reconcile with his long-estranged sister Maggie. A decade after they last talked, Maggie brings Milo to the house she shares with cheery, uncomplicated husband Lance (Luke Wilson). While Milo has allowed their unhappy family history to poison his life, Maggie appears to have escaped into conformity. She is, of course, hiding new, more recent failures.

Hader and Wiig do a good job of communicating inner misery through sardonic asides and tortured grimaces, but Wilson almost steals the show. The picture begins by treating his down-to-earth optimism as a target for ridicule but at the end he has emerged as the film’s most likable character.


Featuring behind-the-scenes contribution from ‘mumblecore’ royalty, the picture is generous enough to admit that the emotionally stable need love as well. There’s some sort of lesson in that.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist