“The Skeleton Twins”
If you’ve seen the previews or trailers for “The Skeleton Twins,” I’m sure you think that it is a hysterical comedy provided by the “Saturday Night Live” graduates, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. Those previews are profoundly misleading, as the funniest scenes are all on full display. Yet this remains a hauntingly engaging movie for completely unexpected reasons.
More to the point, Wiig and Hader play twins who have not seen each other for more than 10 years. Both are emotionally shattered, and the film begins with Hader’s Milo trying to kill himself by slicing his wrists in a tub while Wiig’s Maggie contemplates her own death with a handful of prescription drugs.
In the process, they are reunited, each trying desperately to find meaning in his or her own life while trying to help each other. Milo is gay, and he still suffers from a high school episode where he ended up having a sexual relationship with his high school English teacher. He isn’t helped when that teacher, played quite competently by “Modern Family” actor Ty Burrell, accidently appears in his life at a bookstore.
Maggie claims to be happily married to a kind and clueless husband (Luke Wilson) while having continual affairs with men she barely knows. Milo, constantly haunted by the fact that his best years are long behind him, repeatedly contemplates death while Maggie fights her own personal revulsion that she has become a housewife with prostitute-like tendencies.
Hader is proving to be a very engaging actor, and he has made mighty contributions to some very amusing films. He was a hoot playing Willy, the swimming pool manager in “The To Do List” (2013), and made valuable contributions to such memorable films as “Super Bad” (2007), “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Tropic Thunder” and “Pineapple Express,” all in 2008. On top of that, he is unforgettable as the chef of James McAvoy’s restaurant in this year’s “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them.”
I’m not sure where Wiig is destined to go on the big screen, as she has starred in a number of films that range from good to borderline awful. She was rightfully praised for her wicked roles in “Bridesmaids” and “Paul,” both in 2011. However, her appearances in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and “Anchor Man 2: The Legend Continues” are films that I suspect she would like to forget. While nearly everyone expresses affection for Wiig, she has to prove that she is more than a one-dimensional actress. As noted above, there are some laugh-out-loud moments as our twins fight their mutual depression, but they never succeed in digging their way out of their emotional hole. Wiig and Hader are captivating from the beginning. The strength of the film comes from the simple fact that you are left rooting for these two troubled souls, though it was hard not to suspect that a date with infamy awaits them.
“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them”
The film begins with newlyweds Conor Ludlow and Eleanor Rigby rolling around on the grass in a New York park. They just left a restaurant, and they are engulfed in their passionate love for each other. As Eleanor sits on top of Conor, pinning him to the ground, he looks up and says, “Go easy, I only have one heart.”
You next see Eleanor riding a bike on a bridge spanning the Hudson River. She suddenly starts walking, then climbs to an opening and jumps. She welcomes death more than being rescued. Something dreadful has happened to this couple, and director Ned Benson’s “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them” invites us to share the couple’s despair.
Though the film never revisits the moment that ripped these two loveable souls apart, it becomes clear that they have lost a young child. Despite their efforts, they have become catatonic, and their collective world has been crushed.
I loved every moment of this film, which is attributable to the dazzling performances of James McAvoy as Conor and Jessica Chastain as Eleanor. Chastain is captivating as a woman beyond help who has fled to her parents’ home. She is lost in a world as if she is an alien from another planet. Her family tries desperately to assist her, which includes taking a picture down from a stairwell wall that shows Eleanor, Conor and their child. Unfortunately, Eleanor sees the empty space.
McAvoy’s performance is equally brilliant, playing a young restaurant owner who has lost all direction. Trying to live in the couple’s old apartment, he finally has to flee to his father’s residence to seek some solitude. He vacillates from anger to exhaustion, and your heart breaks for him as much as Eleanor.
But the magnificence of the movie is also reflected by contributions from superior supporting actors. William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert play Eleanor’s parents, who are left in their own agony knowing that they can’t help their daughter. Hurt is wonderful as a college professor who keeps a meaningful distance from his daughter, while Huppert is completely enjoyable as Eleanor’s French mother who finds red wine and a cigarette a necessity by 5 p.m. every day.
Ciaran Hinds makes a memorable contribution as Conor’s father, a gentle man whose great success in the restaurant business has left him understanding human failings after three divorces. Bill Hader also stands out as a chef and close friend of Conor, as does Viola Davis as a professor who takes Eleanor under her cryptic wing. I should also note that Jess Weixler is unforgettable as Eleanor’s sister, the only person left on Earth who can comfort her.
Both Conor and Eleanor have fallen down separate rabbit holes leaving them in a Wonderland without any wonder. They touch, they talk and then they flee. The question confronting the viewer is whether they can ever find their way back home.
Watch for the soon-to-be-released sequels entitled “Him” and “Her.” I want to resolve my doubt.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.