The Skeleton Twins
United States, 2014
Directed by Craig Johnson

No doubt director Craig Johnson’s Indie Liberal-Bias Family-Relationship movie went over well with the Sundance crowd. It flatters our tears and our tolerance in equal measure. Though I appreciate the evenhandedness in the script’s treatment of some, uh, serious sexual issues — an empathetic eye on our bodies’ blameless messiness — a reckoning of these issues is cast aside in order to rejoin the estranged couple, in this case twins whose fucked-up avoidances and denials mirror one another’s. Some harsh words and a gift of goldfish and all is right with the world. Except for Maggie’s husband, Lance, played by an comparatively inexpressive Luke Wilson — what happened to him? The fact that he disappears from the narrative, and that he so easily becomes Milo’s straight bro, points his character out as being the empty repository for everyone’s displacements, suppressions, wishes and condescensions, a mere device. (Hey, they have to go somewhere!) As the Letterboxd blurb says: “[The Twins] realize the key to fixing their lives may just lie in repairing their relationship.” Gosh, I hope no one believes that, but the film sure suggests that we should.

So this is rather too easy to watch for a movie that features two attempted suicides, and everyone is let off the hook, especially the audience, because the stakes are really not that high, and the film relies on our not really wanting them to be. That may, in fact, be the central defining characteristic of the “Sundance Film,” that, along with its perfect accompaniment — the twee, tinkling score.

Still, it’s hard to deny the dignity and detail in the performances of the two leads, and the camera wisely focuses on their faces, often planimetrically framed front and center, and their rapport. Kristen Wiig as Maggie as always displays impressive timing, not just for the quiet beats, but also during the sex scenes with the Australian scuba-diving instructor. But Bill Hader is just as good as Milo, Maggie’s underachieving gay brother. The musical break, which is also a strong character moment provided by lip-syncing to Starship’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now, might feel a little easy and predictable, but it does encapsulate the film’s strengths. The comedy, for the most part, is well-earned.

Liz Garcia’s The Lifeguard covers some of the same territory, although it also sidesteps some of the more unpleasant and obvious conclusions to the conflicts it sets up, but I liked it more, probably because the sexual and identity issues were central rather than window-dressing as they are here.