“We are stupid, stupid — that’s the main thing about us. We don’t doubt enough, we, form too many convictions, like idiots we live by them.It’s far better that, instead of perfecting our attitudes, or perfecting our position in the world even, we would spend time perfecting doubt — develop a perfection of doubt.” - Jack Kerouac in letter to Allen Ginsberg August 26, 1947.
Many of us press on in the face of crushing disappointment and ceaseless uncertainty. Usually its because we have a support system. Loving family or a devoted spouse or true friends can make all the difference. Of course some or all of the these types of people are no guarantee of a smooth ride. The road of life is riddled with potholes. Some of which sport teeth.
Few recent films have done a better job of exploring the vagaries of modern life than The Skeleton Twins. Directed by a relative newcomer in Craig Johnson, it benefits greatly from terrific performances from Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. The two are Saturday Night Live alums who are, of course, best known for the comedic talents. Actors who do comedy routinely step into dramatic roles and give brilliant performances. Bill Murray, Robin Williams and Jim Carrey are a few examples. Wiig and Hader are allowed to flex their comedic chops in a film that wisely mixes humor with dark themes such as suicide.
Wiig and Hader play siblings Maggie and Milo who have not seen each other in ten years. Maggie is married to a perfectly amiable chap Lance (Luke Wilson) the quintessential super nice guy. He's active, fun and able to get along with anyone and everyone. He easily takes to Milo who comes to stay after an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Milo is gay, which always adds its own special drama to family dynamics and life in general. Maggie loves her husband but not quite enough to have a child with him. Plus there is that uncertainty. Her love seems genuine but is not deep. That's good enough for some people but not someone like Maggie whose thinking is so uncertain she needs absolute clarity whenever possible.Milo has not succeeded in his quest to become an actor. He seems to have had a failed romance too. He's been a waiter in L.A. and like a lot of people who had or has big dreams is having a hard time coping with reality. Meanwhile Maggie is a dental hygienist. That's okay but while it is satisfying and pays the bills it doesn't help a seeker find answers.
Wilson's Lance is a wonderful contrast to the twins. Everything is cool with him. He takes life at face value. He asks few questions as he wolfs down a frozen waffle or ice cream or drinks a beer or watches TV or works or plays or talks. Lance is the kind of guy who has a lot of friends. He's who everyone else refers to as "a great guy." Life is fun and easy for Lance. He's like a loyal puppy dog for Maggie. Unquestioning, cute and loving. Lance is in so many ways the mirror opposite of his wife and brother in law. Without him The Skeleton Twins would just be skeletons rather than the fully realized characters they are. And what they are is full of doubt.
Doubt often creeps into the minds of people who did not have ideal childhoods. Without providing spoilers, suffice to say that Maggie and Milo were not blessed with idyllic formative years. Like many of us they find refuge in humor. Here is where Wiig and Hader's comedic backgrounds pay off. But fortunately The Skeleton Twins does not divert its story with easy laughs instead letting the yuks come naturally.
The humor is critical because it helps the film's harder truths go down easier. There is the touching, wrenching story of Milo's first love that raises some serious and even disturbing questions about romance and the rules of relationships.
Maggie and Milo have fun with each. They fight with each other. They confide in each other. They need each other far more than they consciously realize. They are a delight to watch because they reveal so much and their story gives us so much room and license to think to wander to doubt. The Skeleton Twins has many gifts for audiences. Of that there is no doubt.