'The Skeleton Twins'

Everything Kristen Wiig touches is comic in The Skeleton Twins
GOOD BONES: Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader play siblings trying to get their lives together.

Craig Johnson's pretty much perfect The Skeleton Twins is about the reunion of a brother and a sister: a pair of small town messes still trying to look suave under duress. When they were young, their father committed suicide. Shortly afterward, their mother (Joanna Gleason) fled the wreckage to become a New Age charlatan in Sedona, Arizona.

Milo (Bill Hader) has just returned from Los Angeles for the first time in 10 years, hopelessly concealing his declining career as an actor-turned-waiter. While in town, he has half a mind to look up an old mentor (Ty Burrell, never better). Maggie (Kristen Wiig) is trying to keep a lid on her personal problems—mainly, a tendency to be a pushover for other men, even though she's married to a very nice husband named Lance (Luke Wilson). Lance is counting the days until his wife is pregnant and he can become a dad.

The two lead performers have been on each other's wavelength for years: Bill Hader, whose bulldozer forehead is softened with bangs, looks authentically lonely. His Milo has an actor's anxiety—he doesn't know what to do, but he does want to please. Wiig and Hader demonstrate a time-tested gift of improv, of finding the right angle. And director Johnson gives them luxurious amounts of time to show what they can do. Only once does this seem like too much—Maggie, a dental hygienist, gets into her boss's stash of nitrous oxide, and there's maybe one fart joke too many after Milo tells her she's "gassy".

But just as Wiig and Hader's rapport is marvelous to watch, it's surprising how much the cinematographer Reed Morano excels on what must be a low budget. She also shot the upstate New York locations in And So It Goes, in which every landscape looked as dyed and covered with makeup as its elderly cast. The locations here are suffused with slight mist—it's the Hudson valley at Nyack sitting in for upstate, college-town New Hampshire. The film has a little grain to it. As the story unfolds, the darkness increases, leading to a merry Halloween that still looks haunted and eldritch, with a little rustle of cornstalks on the soundtrack. You have it both ways, enjoying the hundred little quaintnesses of the town, while registering the ambient disenchantment. Most of the characters seem to feel that real life is going on elsewhere.

And Wiig is stunning. I can't claim Wiig is prettier than Jane Fonda in Barbarella, but she's more alluring than Jane Fonda, period. She's the Fonda who breathes, who doesn't have the too-tight ribcage—the small, wry mouth twists beautifully with embarrassment, drunkenness and remorse. No one now, and maybe no one ever, is as good with the big wince as Wiig. Everything she touches is comic: wolfing a cocktail after having succumbed to a pass by her Australian scuba instructor, he's played as a low-rent Chris Hemsworth by Boyd Holbrook, with what looks like the octopus from the Kraken rum bottle inked on his neck.

Wilson's Lance is so good and kind and decent that one completely understands Maggie's prowling for someone new. (Lance has his faults. He wears rubber toe shoes, eats waffles with his hands, and suggests a Honolulu second honeymoon because "Hawaii is prime baby making country.")

In perhaps the single weirdest incident of counter-programming since 1990—recall that dread Friday when two separate Lambada-sploitation movies opened against each other—this sweet and singular Skeleton Twins shares its opening day with This is Where I Leave You. It's not fair to judge a film from the coming attractions. But do look—am I being harsh? The same dysfunctional family, only twice as many, and the real Jane Fonda wearing a pair of comedy rubber bazongas strapped to her chest. Here the emphasis is on foaling the next generation; here, the huge laugh overheard from a couple having sex: "Put a baby in me!" Moral: no matter how dysfunctional the milieu, a woman's one road to happiness is getting her eggs fertilized pronto. Accept no substitutes: The Skeleton Twins has the feeling and humor and the heart.

The Skeleton Twins

93 MIN., R

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