One of the year’s best films, Craig Johnson’s exceptional drama “The Skeleton Twins,” uses comedic actors in an incredibly soulful way.
The performances by “Saturday Night Live” veterans Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader call to mind those in “Punch-Drunk Love,” “Lost in Translation” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
In The City to promote the film, Wiig and Hader — who knew each other well from television and movies such as “Adventureland” — said the script gave them everything they needed.
“I don’t know that ‘SNL’ had anything to do with it,” says Hader. “If you have a good script, you just kind of follow that lead.”
Wiig agrees: “It’s kind of unsexy, but you just have to ask, what is my job? When you’re at ‘SNL,’ I have to create characters, I have to be funny. On this movie, I have to be this person.”
Johnson, also being interviewed, disputes the display of modesty, saying, “They do have a little bit of a shorthand. I felt like I would just modulate things. I could move the dials around a little bit, but there was so much that was already there.”
The movie is about twins Maggie (Wiig) and Milo (Hader), who coincidentally attempt to commit suicide at the same time. Maggie gets a call from a hospital and reconnects with Milo, whom she has not seen in years.
The director says he and Mark Heyman wrote the script years ago, not with Wiig and Hader particularly in mind, although he knew he wanted comedians.
“I love movies that take a comedic actor and put them in a different light,” he says. “It’s not really doing a reversal of what they do comedically, it’s just doing a more grounded human version.”
Two standout scenes call upon all of the actors’ skills. One takes place after hours in a dentist’s office, with the siblings taking nitrous oxide and clowning around, cracking each other up. “There was so much in that scene that was hysterical that we had to cut down, just to calibrate it and make sure it still felt like a brother and sister,” Johnson says.
“Something could be funny, and then you realize, ‘I don’t care about this person,’” Wiig adds.
In the other scene, Milo tries to patch things up after an argument with Maggie by playing Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” and doing a lip-sync routine. After grumpily resisting, she gives in and joins the performance.
“We stole it from the movie ‘Mannequin,’” Hader says. “Andrew McCarthy has a huge problem with that. He now drives by my house and glowers at me.”
IF YOU GO
The Skeleton Twins
Starring Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell
Written by Craig Johnson, Mark Heyman
Directed by Craig Johnson