Film reviw: The Skeleton Key

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Estranged siblings confront the demons of their tragic past in Craig Johnson’s hilarious and heart-rending comedy about keeping it in the family, where ‘it’ includes suicide, deception and inappropriate sexual liaisons.

Co-written by Mark Heyman, The Skeleton Twins is a small, yet perfectly formed, character study blessed with eye-catching performances from Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as the titular offspring, whose relationship has mouldered in the years since their father leapt off a bridge.

This unexplained death hangs over the film like a ghoulish spectre and provides the catalyst for the eventual disintegration of the characters’ dysfunctional family.

Johnson’s film confronts his protagonists’ grief and guilt with sensitivity, tackling thorny issues of self-loathing and infidelity with a pleasing comedic edge to encourage us, as well as the characters, to giggle through the tears.

Laughter is the best medicine for the broken hearted and The Skeleton Twins dispenses a hearty dose including a colourful burst of Halloween fancy dress and a grin-inducing duet between the siblings to the strains of Starship’s chart-topping 1987 anthem Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now taken from the film Mannequin.

Dental hygienist Maggie Dean (Wiig) receives a telephone call from a hospital in Los Angeles.

Her brother Milo (Hader) is recovering after a failed attempt to slit his wrists in the bath.

Maggie collects Milo and spirits her brother back to their New York hometown where she lives with her outdoorsy husband Lance (Luke Wilson), who is looking forward to raising a family.

“I can’t wait to be the creepy gay uncle!” grins Milo impishly.

He recuperates by revisiting old haunts including the bookshop where his high school English teacher Rich (Ty Burrell) now works.

Rich had a sexual relationship with Milo when he was 15 and there is still a palpable spark of attraction between the men.

While Milo wrestles with his feelings, he provides emotional support to Maggie - “a restless housewife with whore-like tendencies” - who seems determined to self-destruct her marriage by sleeping with her handsome scuba diving instructor (Boyd Holbrook).

The Skeleton Twins in galvanised by the electrifying on-screen chemistry of the lead actors.

Hader is particularly captivating in a multi-faceted role that requires him to reveal the chinks of regret and despair behind the twinkly facade of his acerbic court jester.

A fractious exchange between the siblings and their neglectful New Age mom (Joanna Gleeson) doesn’t ring entirely true but it’s a simple and effective method of explaining Maggie’s reluctance to have children of her own.

Johnson deftly navigates the film’s choppy emotional waters and doesn’t pretend for a moment that his characters’ woes can be salved in 90 minutes.

Indeed, some wounds are so deep and raw, they will never heal.

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