Surprisingly moving for a film assembled from such familiar scenes, Craig Johnson's The Skeleton Twins mushes together queasy/quirky indie family drama with the beats of a romantic comedy. You know the outline just from eyeballing the poster: Kristen Wiig's Maggie and Bill Hader's Milo find their way toward loving each other after a wary start. Then, not long after they've found each other, and after we've had the chance to relish their giddy togetherness, backstory must rip them apart.
What's singular here isn't that the stars are playing brother and sister, or that they stir such sublime and anxious joy from each other. It's that the real love story is between two profoundly depressed people and life itself.
That's not to say The Skeleton Twins is a grind. Most movies that kick off with multiple attempted suicides aren't this funny. And movies in which comedy stars dial back and play serious are never this funny. Most of the laughs come from well-observed human behavior: Milo moves into the home of his estranged sister Maggie, where he studies the cracks in her marriage to a nice guy (Luke Wilson) neither respects. The best scenes come as the siblings discover how to be around each other — and get close to discovering how to be, period. Getting high on nitrous oxide sets the siblings into confessions and fart-dancing on the floor of a dentist's office, and the scene is long and nourishing, stirring that feeling of raw, unguarded safety you might share with the people who have known you best and longest. Even the obligatory out-of-nowhere musical number has the power to seize viewers' guts. (Alan Scherstuhl)