Monday, December 22, 2014


by Don Stradley

The Skeleton Twins was made in the spirit of classic “independent films”,  the sort where quirky, highly dysfunctional people parade their problems onscreen for our amusement, but if you stand back and really look at this movie, you’re struck by the predictable nature of the the characters and situations.  The movie wants to be about love and individuality,  and how these disparate people really care about each other, but it’s really about how these sorts of characters behave in other movies, and how we’ve grown to expect certain moments to happen.  

The Skeleton Twins Movie Review

The film stars Bill Hader as a suicidally depressed waiter and failed actor whose sister (Kristen Wiig) is also depressed and suicidal.  They’ve gone in two separate directions – he to Hollywood where he lives a flamboyant gay lifestyle but seems to have run out of ideas, while she’s gone a more traditional route, marrying a good-hearted stable fellow (Luke Wilson) and buying a big house in upstate New York.  When Wiig hears about Hader’s suicide attempt, she rushes to bring him to her home where he can recuperate. They haven’t spoken in 10 years, and we gradually learn that their estrangement stems from her objection to a love affair he had with a much older man.  

We get lots of jokes about the effete gay brother trying to adjust to small town life, and we meet their mom, a flakey new age type who is always in this sort of movie.  While brother and sister have a kind of snippy chemistry, they can’t seem to do anything without pissing the other one off. We learn that their father committed suicide years earlier, and his actions appear to have left both children with a death wish that won’t quite play out.  In between catty banter and reminiscing about the bad old days, Hader tries to reunite with the older man from his past, while Wiig has an affair with her scuba teacher.  Wilson is a good sport, but he wears those weird shoes that are designed to look like feet. He wears these, I imagine, so we know he’s a little goofy.  I guess this is a good enough reason for Wiig to have sex with other men.

Eventually, we get the big scene where Hader and Wiig have a major argument, but he makes it up to her by inviting her to lip-synch to a cheesy old ‘80s tune (Nothing gonna stop us now, by Starship!) .  These sort of movies always have a lip-synching moment, as if they’re easy shorthand to show us how these characters are connected.  While watching the scene, I tried hard to recall any moments in my life that were solved by a good old-fashioned lip-synch. I couldn’t. But next time I have a falling out with a loved one, I’ll put on some Journey or Blondie, and move my lips. That, apparently, will solve everything.

Wiig plays the usual anemic character she’s played since leaving Saturday Night Live, as if she’s determined to whitewash every minute of her comedy roots.  Her idea of playing a sad character is to slouch around and look tired, as if she’s too weak to straighten up. Wilson, a criminally underused actor, is spot on as the clueless husband.  He’s the only likeable character in the movie, but he’s there to be abused by this horrid brother/sister act.  The film’s real revelation is Hader, who played many flamboyantly gay characters on SNL, but here shows a depth and seriousness that hopefully means more good parts in the future.  Without exaggerating, I think he has a chameleon-like quality comparable to Robin Williams. It’s a shame he wasted a good performance in this movie.

Jake Gyllanhaal wasted TWO good performances in Enemy, the latest movie where an actor gets to play two roles.  I understand the allure for an actor to take such challenge, and a lot of the great ones have tried it, from Bette Davis to Jeremy Irons. But unless you’re drawing two paychecks, there’s very little payoff where these movies are concerned. Most of them aren’t much better than those episodes of Bewitched where Samantha played her own evil cousin.  

Enemy Movie Review

The story involves  Adam Bell, a history professor in Toronto who watches a movie one night and is shocked to notice that one of the actors is his very own double. The actor is Anthony St. Clair, a bit player barely above extra status.  Enchanted and then obsessed by the idea of his twin, Bell tracks down St. Claire, and creates a disturbance by calling Bell’s home and speaking to his wife. This unsteady courtship between the two is the best part of the movie. The scenes are disquieting,  for we sense the emptiness in Bell’s life that has set him on this crazy course to meet this actor, whose own life is rather messy.  Both Bell and St. Claire are in stagnant, unhappy relationships,  neither is especially accomplished at their chosen professions, and there’s even a sense that the two might combine to be a whole, that is, neither is living to his potential.  As drab and grey as Toronto looks in this movie, I don’t blame Bell for obsessing over his lookalike.

They eventually meet, freak each other out, and then arrange to sleep with each other’s women.  There’s a twist ending, which I won’t spoil, for even though the movie isn’t great, it offers a few small pleasures, namely Gyllanhaal’s acting as both Bell and St. Claire. Without doing much, he’s able to delineate both figures.  It’s quite an achievement, and I hope he drew two paychecks.

Director Denis Villeneuve, working from a novel by Portuguese author Jose Saramago, pushes the cheerlessness of Toronto, creating an atmosphere that is really too dull to be called “nightmarish.”  He also adds a lot of his own touches to Saramago’s story, namely Bell’s constant hallucinating of giant spiders. Admirers of the movie have praised it as a tale of a man dealing with his subconscious, as if Bell is also hallucinating St. Claire as well as these spiders.  I don’t know.  People will see what they want to see.  If they want to think this is a movie about a man and his subconscious, so be it.  I think it’s just a half-realized story in a pretty package.

By the way, I’ve been to Toronto.  The sun didn’t come out for five days. 

Both The Skeleton Twins and Enemy are available on various VOD services, as well as DVD. 


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