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Up To Date

Film Review: Bill Hader And Kristen Wiig Clean Out Closets In 'The Skeleton Twins'

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Roadside Attractions
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Saturday Night Live fans who've felt a void since Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig departed the show can get sated with The Skeleton Twins. Playing Milo and Maggie, siblings who are rehabilitating their relationship after a 10-year freeze, Hader and Wiig wield comedic chops as well as dramatic ones, reminding SNL viewers that the cast wasn't made up slap-happy stand-up comics but fine actors.

Those dramatic skills are on display in the first five minutes, as both Milo and Maggie -- coincidentally and sadly -- try to end their lives. Neither succeeds (lest we spend another 85 minutes without them) and their efforts manage to reunite them. Maggie invites Milo, a stumbling Los Angeles actor who happens to be gay, to her upstate New York bungalow where she lives with her husband, Lance (Luke Wilson), whose simple good-heartedness Milo accurately compares to that of a Labrador retriever.

If the siblings are to bond like they did in their emotionally tangled childhood, they must first clear away brambles and thorny bushes. For the first few days together, they're awkwardly disengaged, carefully testing each other's limits. Eventually the reciprocal humor and inventiveness that got them through their upbringing by toxic parents begins to return, and they remember why they were each other's life preservers before life didn't seem worth preserving.

Their damage, though,  is profound and not easily glossed over. The success of Craig Johnson's and Mark Heyman's screenplay (Johnson directed as well) is that it honestly and humanely captures how grown-up siblings know better than anyone else how to intermittently delight and debase each other. In Margo's and Milo's highs, they're dancing (or in one wonderful scene, lip-syncing) on clouds while in their lows, they turn on each other with switchblade precision. The humor in The Skeleton Twins is etched with both nostalgia and arsenic.

Both carry shameful secrets that are poised to destroy them. But thanks to Wiig's and Hader's sincerely vibrant and palpably melancholy performances, you want to yell "Look out!" from the back of the theater in and effort to protect them from themselves.

The Skeleton Twins|Dir. Craig Johnson|93 mins.|Playing on select screens including the Leawood Theater, 3707 W. 95th Street, Overland park, Kan., 913-642-1133 and the Tivoli, 4050 Pennsylvania, Kansas City, Mo., 816-383-7756

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Up To Date independent film
Since 1998, Steve Walker has contributed stories and interviews about theater, visual arts, and music as an arts reporter at KCUR. He's also one of Up to Date's regular trio of critics who discuss the latest in art, independent and documentary films playing on area screens.