The driving premise of "The Skeleton Twins" is that a normal life is so dreadful it might be an excusable reason to kill yourself. The film's makers are so focused on this premise that they don't realize how hackneyed and empty their own project is. It's so generic it makes you want to kill yourself.
The film centers on Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig), siblings who reunite after 10 years. Attempted suicide brings them together. Maggie is about to down a handful of pills when she gets an emergency call about Milo, who attempted to slit his wrists — this is hardly a movie to shy from coincidence, but still — so she puts down the downers and flies out to Los Angeles to rescue her campy gay bro.
Back home in upstate New York, Maggie tries to help, but it's through the fog of her own depressing challenge: a humdrum, conventional life with her husband, Lance (a slumming Luke Wilson). The problem is that we're just thrown in with these characters and expected to identify without much reason. The only contrast to Milo and Maggie is goofy Lance, and he's just a stereotype. He loves Hot Pockets and "hybrid" shoes with toes, and that makes him one of those pitiable normals worthy of ridicule.
"The Skeleton Twins" is yet another neat and tidy Sundance-style family dramedy, a small-scale, creatively challenged "Silver Linings Playbook." It's difficult to say why these movies tend to star former television personalities, like Steve Carell's "The Way Way Back," Greg Kinnear's "Stuck in Love" and Jason Bateman and Tina Fey's "This Is Where I Leave You." It's easy to say why they all have the same blueprint. It's easy to copy. It's much more challenging to say something unique.
There's very little story or real, thoughtful character development in "The Skeleton Twins," which prefers to string out comic set pieces and informational tidbits, kind of skeletal. I'd love to care, but Milo and Maggie seem stock, fraudulent even.
Maggie thinks it would do Milo good to go to work with Lance, for example. Lance's job seems to be picking up twigs and brush, which is played straight, not for laughs (Maggie is a dental hygienist, so maybe she's the family breadwinner). In another scene Maggie takes Milo out for Halloween because "Lance is out playing fantasy football." Huh? Nobody has to go out to play fantasy football.
OK, maybe that's nitpicky, but you notice the little things when there's not much else to notice. Maggie and Milo aren't going out for Halloween to kill their depression as much as to kill another scene.
Those who find Wiig and Hader amusing probably will be amused by some of "The Skeleton Twins," regardless of whether they feel moved by it. It's placidly entertaining, with sitcom comedy that works out well sometimes and doesn't at others. Some critics have gone so far as to call the movie dark, and give Wiig and Hader props for stepping outside their comfort zones. That's a little much. One typical, pointless chunk of the movie puts Milo 10 feet up on an indoor climbing wall just so he can act frightened ("Get me down from here!").
Such comic relief feels especially weird when the movie tries to get serious. During an extended climax, Maggie gives an emotional "nobody gets to be a Hollywood star" speech about being satisfied with normal life. Please. Take any beginner-level writer course and the first thing you'll hear is something like not writing about your broken heart, unless you have a fresh way of talking about it, because you'll end up seeming, like "The Skeleton Twins," trite.
Perhaps the film would come off better if there weren't so many exactly like it. The family dramedy is quickly becoming an exhausted if not moribund genre. That's too bad because you can name 10 to 20 classics off the top of your head. It's possible to make anything good. The dramedy itself isn't bad, it's just in a deep funk right now, which is about the only thing "The Skeleton Twins" gets right about it.
Those who thought this trend for dysfunctional family stories hit rock bottom when 76-year-old Jane Fonda jumped on board with "This Is Where I Leave You" need to witness Wiig and Hader killing screen time with fake fart noises.
It's so normal it's painful. (R) 91 min. S