One of my favourite lines in all of anything comes from Lorrie Moore's story "The Jewish Hunter" from her 1990 collection Like Life. Odette, a forty-year-old poet is set up with Pinky Eliot, a farm lawyer while on a library fellowship in the boonies. Like most Moore characters, Odette is a bit too eccentric for her own good, struggles to be understood by and find happiness with regular people. But Pinky, a regular person with a slightly bizarre interest in WWII, falls for her, views her oddness as affectation instead of who she really is. "Everything's a joke with you," he says one night, after she laughs at an attempt of his to open up, to be serious.
"Nothing's a joke with me," Odette explains. "It just comes out like one."
It's this line--this line that sums up the struggles of the inherently sarcastic, the naturally odd; a club I consider myself a member in good standing with--that kept caroming in my head while watching The Skeleton Twins. Though one of the funniest movies I've seen in a while, it's incredibly serious.
Twins notoriously establish their own language, understood only by each other--idioglossia, if you want to learn a new word today--and Milo and Maggie Dean (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig), dubbed by their somewhat macabre father "The Gruesome Twosome," communicate almost entirely in their own idioglossia: sarcasm. Sarcasm is the shared lens through which these odd balls see the world. After ten years without talking to each other--being brought back together by Milo's attempted suicide, the call about which interrupted Maggie's attempted suicide--it's through tongue-in-cheek wryness that Milo and Maggie begin to reacquaint themselves with each other.
In the past ten years, Milo has detrimentally stayed true to himself, and Maggie has detrimentally tried to be a different person. They're miserable and lost, each with a closet full of individual and shared (ahem) skeletons. They root through their own and each other's closets with the sardonic distance of teenagers killing time in a store, making fun of everything on the shelves.
If this sounds grim and annoying, don't sweat it. The back and forth between Hader and Wiig, who shared about a decade together on Saturday Night Live, never gets tiresome. If the load is weighty, the delivery's always swift and light. Their sarcastic bandying, while indefatigably entertaining, manages to convey an always relevant depth and nuance. The sarcasm shared between the two is, all at once, a coping mechanism, a defense mechanism, and also a legitimate way of talking about yourself and the world with someone you trust understands you.
Much like a Moore story, the "story" isn't always the strong point of The Skeleton Twins. Estranged siblings, disillusionment, a family secret: it's Indie Film 101. While it might sound trite on paper, the integrity of Hader and Wiig's performances steer the film away from those tired indie tropes. The stand-outs of a limp decade of SNL, Hader and Wiig excelled at giving depth to what would otherwise be shallow goofs. As zany as they might have gotten in their wigs and costumes and accents, Hader and Wiig always managed to play characters in a show rife with caricatures. In a genre that's becoming a bit stale, The Skeleton Twins is refreshingly fresh. This is thanks to the supporting cast as well. Luke Wilson submits one of his best performances here, as Maggie's hapless husband--described perfectly as a golden retriever--drawing a good deal of pathos from what might a cardboard cut-out.
And, like a Moore story, you get so charmed by the oblong characters that you can forget that that humour is both a cover for and a product of a profound hurt, of a troubled lostness. In The Skeleton Twins nothing's a joke, even if everything's hilarious.