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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Skeleton Twins

Comedy about a suicidal family

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 29, 2014 -- Suicide, drama and comedy are ingredients which can be mixed together to make a screenplay, but it is a delicate mix. This movie has a story which includes one suicide and four suicide attempts, or near attempts. That is overkill, pardon the pun. It also has a lot of humor in it, silly and otherwise, to balance out some of the emotional pain.

Maybe it is because of Robin Williams' recent suicide, but I am noticing a lot more suicides in movies these days. Suicide has become a movie cliché these days. Need drama in a screenplay? Throw a suicide in there. This movie starts out with two suicide attempts at once. There are a couple more attempts much later in the film. It is a smorgasbord of suicide, pills, wrist-cutting, jumping off buildings and drowning. I think somebody jumps off a bridge, too, but it isn't shown in the movie, just referred to in a conversation. That is a lot for a film with comedic ambitions.

We start with Maggie (played by Kristen Wiig of “Bridesmaids”) looking at a hand full of pills. She's just ready to take this deadly dose when the phone rings. It's a call from a hospital in Los Angeles where her brother, Milo (Bill Hader of “Superbad”) is recovering from a suicide attempt (cut his wrist). He was found by a neighbor and rescued. It is later revealed that their father committed suicide, and this had a big impact on both of them. This plot is like a page from “The Darwin Awards.” In real life, a brother and sister, thousands of miles apart, trying to commit suicide on the same day would be extremely unlikely. The odds of this are much higher with these two.

Maggie drives out to see Milo. They hadn't spoken in 10 years (the reason for this is revealed later). She drives Milo back to his old neighborhood in New York. Maggie's husband, the ever-cheerful and upbeat Lance (Luke Wilson of “Death at a Funeral”) tries to cheer up Milo with some environmental cleanup projects (Maggie calls Lance a “nature frat boy”). Unbeknownst to either Milo or Lance, Maggie has been keeping a dark secret that could sink her marriage.

Unbeknownst to Maggie, Milo goes to see his old high school teacher, Rich (Ty Burrell of “The Incredible Hulk”). When Milo was a 15-year-old High School student, he had an affair with Rich, and he wants to renew the relationship. Rich, on the other hand, is married, with a 16-year-old son of his own, so you know this isn't going to end well. When Milo and Maggie's secrets are revealed to each other it is an explosive emotional situation, which sets off yet more suicide attempts. Milo and Maggie love each other and they help each other, but their relationship is a very messy and difficult one.

While there is a fairly peaceful resolution to these messy emotional situations, there is a lot of damage to one innocent bystander who gets heartbroken in this emotional train wreck. The attempt to laugh this off at the end of the film, and to infuse the ending with warm fuzzy feelings doesn't really balance things out emotionally. It seems like Milo and Maggie dish out more unmitigated pain than they really feel. This film ends up on the bitter and sad side.

There is a very awkward scene with Milo and Maggie's mother, Judy (Joanna Gleason of “Last Vegas”). This is supposed to lay some of the emotional foundation for the family's dysfunction. It doesn't quite work because Judy seems a little too nice and well-adjusted (in her own goofy New Age way) to be blamed for so many the family's emotional problems. Another awkward scene has Milo bursting into Maggie and Lance's bedroom in the middle of the night for a lewd announcement about his disappointment in a gay bar experience. This seems out of character for him, and it isn't that funny.

The best scenes are between Maggie and Milo when they are just goofing around, enjoying each other's company. Wiig, Wilson and Hader all give great performances in this movie, almost enough to lift it out of the dark emotional pit at the heart of the story. It doesn't quite make it there. The truth is, Milo, Maggie and Rich are all narcissistic basket cases who go rampaging through life destroying everyone close to them, but we're supposed to think this is O.K. because they feel a bit sorry about the damage they've done.

Despite the wonderful performances in the film from the cast, there are enough misfires in the script, enough jokes that fall flat, that this film fails to float. A few less suicide attempts might have helped. This film rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2014 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)