Every time “The Skeleton Twins,” a new drama from director/co-writer Craig Johnson, veers toward indie cliches, it’s rescued by perfect casting: Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as siblings reuniting after 10 years apart.
There is perhaps not a lot of overlap between successfully performing together in “Saturday Night Live” sketches and playing depressed twins in a serious picture about family dysfunction, but the actors have the sort of chemistry that can only come from having collaborated so closely for many years.
Hader plays Milo, who returns from Los Angeles to his Rockland County hometown of Nyack to stay with sister Maggie (Wiig) and her husband Lance (Luke Wilson) after a failed suicide attempt.
The film trods conventional territory, with indie standards in terms of plot (Maggie takes a scuba diving class etc.) and visuals (characters stare forlornly out a car window), but it is elevated time and again by the stars, who are so open and expressive, ably conveying the complexities of the characters’ deep and fractured bond.
The best moments happen when background distractions fade and Hader and Wiig are free to play out this relationship, conveying the ways Milo and Maggie bring out the best and worst in each other by lip-synching to Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” or confronting the experiences that led to their estrangement.
There’s genuine love there and the sort of pain that only comes from feeling helplessly submerged by a shared self-destructiveness. These are damaged, sad people, but they’re very much alive and real and unforgettable, too.