Friday, September 12, 2014

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig enliven Craig Johnson's dram-com THE SKELETON TWINS

Suicide (the attempt, at least) has long been a good hook for a black comedy. It clearly remains so, what with today's theatrical debut of THE SKELETON TWINS -- a new dramatic comedy (or maybe comedic drama) from Craig Johnson, shown below, its director and co-writer (with Mark Heyman). What makes the movie work best is its screenplay (which won an award at Sundance), together with dialog that keeps us interested in and rooting for that titular brother and sister for whom life has been, up till now, something less than terrific. That screenplay is full of well-observed characters -- the twins and just about everyone else we meet here -- who bring the film to fine life.

Bro and sis are played by SNL alumnae Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, and both are just about as good as you could wish. While the characters may vie for pride of place, the actors -- smartly -- never do. They play off each other beautifully like the remarkable pros they are, and keep us alternately laughing and wincing at the reality of where depression and poor parenting too often leaves us. Hader and Wiig (shown above and below) are innately comic performers; their ability to make us grin or often full-out laugh, despite the dark happenings here, goes a long way in making this movie so much fun.

The Skeleton Twins opens with one twin contemplating suicide (the pills are in her hand) even as the other has already begun his task. The plot, once the film is in motion, proves nearly negligible, having to do with the pair's bonding after a decade of estrangement. This is OK, however, because the fun and the meaning here are to be found in the details. And, as screenwriters, Heyman and Johnson are nothing if not detail-oriented.

This shows up in the subsidiary characters they have created -- from the Wiig character's husband (another knock-out performance from Luke Wilson, who makes the combination of adorable, sweet and just a tad slow look like the sexiest thing in the world) to the "older man" who clearly was/is the Hader character's first and greatest love (Ty Burrell -- below, right -- doing a combination of closeted and horny that should ring bells with many would-be "straight" men).

The filmmakers dole out exposition cleverly and believably so that we come to know past history well enough to better understand the twins. Further, the events that lead to the finale are not nearly as melodramatic as they might be in other hands. If, instead of the usual last-minute race to the airport, we get one instead to the scuba-diving center, never mind.

Loose ends are not so much tied up as left gently hanging. Yet a door has been opened, and it appears that some kind of entry is possible. Considering what has happened to our twins up till now, this must be construed as something of a happy ending -- if not an all-out feel-good humdinger.

The Skeleton Twins -- a joint release of Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions and running 93 minutes -- opened today, Friday, September 12, in New York City (at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square, Angelika, and City Cinemas 123) and in Los Angeles (at Arclight theaters in Hollywood, Pasadena and Sherman Oaks, and at The Landmark). Elsewhere, too. Click here and then install your own zip code and see what happens....

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