The Skeleton Twins


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in The Skeleton Twins
"The end product of a long and dismal trend in American indies, where the effort to create art just like the art one saw last week has produced a formula that is exponentially recursive." | Photo: Reed Morano

Evert now and then, mainstream fashion experiments with something from the fringes. Whether it's labelled Bohemian, gypsy or grunge, it is, so we're told, all about being different and creative (like those artsy types out there); then it hits the high street and suddenly everyone is trying to be quirky in the same way. The Skeleton Twins is the Primark hippie maxi dress of the film world. It's the end product of a long and dismal trend in American indies, where the effort to create art just like the art one saw last week has produced a formula that is exponentially recursive.

Everything here fits the formula, from flashbacks to a kooky childhood to Rich (Ty Burrell)'s random musical moments and Kristen Wiig's haircut. Throw in some casual abuse of goldfish (seriously, if a character in a film killed a dog through neglect, would we smile when they acquired a new one at the end?) and a retreat into cinematic nostalgia (homage?) when ideas are at their thinnest, and we have a film that not only has nothing to say but can't even mime appealingly. It is redeemed only by the supporting performance of Luke Wilson as Wiig's character Maggie's neglected husband, but he has far too little to work with, and the only vaguely daring plotline (exploring Rich's teenage fling with a teacher) is abruptly cut off when it threatens to become interesting.

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Perhaps there is an effort at artistic parallel in a film about two siblings unable to commit to anything which is, in turn, afraid to commit to anything, but it seems unfair to inflict it on an audience that has been promised intelligent tragi-comedy and wit. The film is technically proficient and well produced, but this contributes to a sense of glossiness as a substitute for content; and if this is a comment on our heroine's inability to connect with the world around her in a meaningful way, well, it shouldn't take an hour and a half to make that point. Whilst not actively bad, Wiig and Burrell deliver consummate studies in blandness, giving us no reason to care about these people. Director Craig Johnson makes intermittently interesting choices with his framing but all this achieves is to convince us he should be working on a different film.

With any film like this, there are always some people discovering the genre for the first time who will think what they're seeing is clever. One can only hope they realise sooner rather than later that despite the hype around insipid indie-by-numbers works like this, there are genuinely smart, thoughtful and inspired films out there, and it's well worth making the effort to find the real thing.

Reviewed on: 29 Nov 2014
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The Skeleton Twins packshot
A restless young woman reconnects with her brother while he is recovering from a suicide attempt.

Director: Craig Johnson

Writer: Mark Heyman, Craig Johnson

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Ty Burrell, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, Boyd Holbrook, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Ian Hyland, Jennifer Lafleur, Eddie Schweighardt, Genevieve Adams, Sydney Lucas, Truck Hudson, Cliff Moylan, Paul Castro Jr., David Garelik

Year: 2014

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US

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