Kiss of the Spider Woman-1985

Kiss of the Spider Woman-1985

Director-Hector Babenco

Starring-William Hurt, Raul Julia

Scott’s Review #187

60010547

Reviewed October 24, 2014

Grade: B+

1985 was not the best of years for film nor was much of the 1980’s, as I think about it, but unique standouts do exist and Kiss of the Spider Woman is an unusual and artistic film.

Set in present day South America (Brazil) two men are imprisoned for very different reasons and are cellmates in the prison where they are captives. Complete opposites, they form an unlikely bond, centering on friendship, but also skirting towards romance, flirtation, and at times, love. Luis Molina is outwardly homosexual and extremely flamboyant and perhaps out of touch with reality as he fantasizes and describes romantic Nazi films. He is imprisoned for not only being homosexual, but of having sex with an underage male. The other man, Valentin Arregui, is a liberal, political activist, who has been beaten, tortured, and interrogated due to his revolutionary leaning politics- he has a rough, macho edge to him. On the surface the two men have nothing in common, but due to close proximity, forge a close bond and mutual respect for each other as their lives pre-imprisonment are explained to each other as well as to the audience. The true strength of this film is the performance, very against type, of William Hurt- his best performance of his career by a mile. He completely embodies the character of Luis in his effeminacy, yearning, pain, and obsession with escaping reality through film. Raul Julia has the same effect, though in a completely different way, as he portrays Valentin. Luis tenderly comforts Valentin, who is being poisoned by prison officials, by incorporating his stories of films into Valentin’s real-life, as he yearns for his separated lover, Marta. As Luis begins falling in love with Valentin, and one is seemingly double-crossed by the other, it leads to a test of courage and dedication to each other.

The ending of the film is a sad one, dark, yet thought provoking, and shows of love, tenderness, and bravery. My only negative from Kiss of the Spider Woman is at moments, using the flashback series or through the film that Luis explains, it is tough to follow and surmise what is exactly going on in the story, but the performances of Hurt and Julia, and the chemistry between them, are the films major strengths.

Annabelle-2014

Annabelle-2014

Director-John R. Leonetti

Starring-Annabelle Wallis

Scott’s Review #186

80013775

Reviewed October 17, 2014 

Grade: B+

Annabelle is a classic, edge-of-your-seat, ghost story that is effective in its creepiness and element of surprise. Set in California circa 1969, John and Mia Gordon are the all- American happy young couple. He is a Doctor and she is beautiful and pregnant with their first child. They attend church each Sunday, they are friendly with the neighbors, and have a strong sense of community. As a surprise, John bestows a life-sized doll on Mia as a present and as an addition to her existing collection of interesting dolls. Before long strange events begin to occur- a home invasion, a fire, a bizarre experience in an elevator, and creepy drawings by the neighbors children.

The film eventually dives into murkier territory when a strange, religious woman, played by Alfre Woodard, is introduced, and the film then shifts focus a bit to spirits, taking of ones soul, and the occult. What sets Annabelle apart from similar horror contemporaries is the power of suspense- we as the audience know something bad is going to happen- we just do not know when. Unlike many horror films who slice and dice for shock value, Annabelle has none of these qualities. Rather, foreshadowing and anticipation is common within the film, making the eventual jumps scarier! – Mia’s constant use of an electric sewing machine and Mia attentively watching news coverage of the Manson murders are clues as to what will come next. A scene set in the middle of the night as a home invasion takes place next door is shot exceptionally well- think Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window- with no dialogue- that the audience sees inside the house from across the yard as violence occurs- frightening. Within the same scene we know the home invasion will gravitate to the Gordon’s house- but when will it strike? Another effective scene shows a seemingly innocent little girl running towards another character in a separate bedroom, but she quickly turns into a maniacal fiend and the foot thudding makes this terrifying- I found myself genuinely scared during a few scenes!

Wisely choosing to avoid the all too frequent CGI effects, Annabelle instead goes the traditional route with genuine scares harvested from the unknown and the feeling of anticipation and dread of events to come. The fantastic musical score composed by Joseph Bishara adds to the anticipation. Annabelle is a prequel to the equally scary The Conjuring and the very first scene is, in fact, the same first scene from that film where two nurses explain how they obtained the doll, named Annabelle, and cannot get away from her.

The final act of Annabelle delves into the spiritual world of evil- a soul (presumably Mia’s or her baby’s) must be sacrificed in order to relinquish the curse put upon by Annabelle’s original owner. A surprising figure aids in the conclusion to this film. Annabelle is old-school horror done very well.

Dog Day Afternoon-1975

Dog Day Afternoon-1975

Director-Sidney Lumet

Starring-Al Pacino, Chris Sarandon

Scott’s Review #185

450423

Reviewed October 13, 2014

Grade: A-

Director Sidney Lumet successfully sets the smoldering hot summer afternoon in New York City for his 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon, as Al Pacino plays Sonny, an unemployed, desperate man who, while married with 2 kids, has a gay lover, Leon, (brilliantly played by Chris Sarandon) who he is attempting to help finance a sex change operation. Based on a true story, Sonny, along with his dimwitted friend Sal- played by John Cazale, decides to rob First Brooklyn Savings Bank. Predictably, their plans go awry when Sonny burns a ledger during the robbery attempt and a pedestrian sees the smoke and alerts police.  As the police become aware of the attempted heist, a standoff ensues between Sonny and the cops, led by Detective Moretti, played by Charles Durning, and the robbery receives media coverage.

Most of the action is set inside the stifling hot bank and directly outside on the street and gradually the supporting characters come into play- the hostages, Sonny’s mother, wife, and lover all make contact with Sonny in some way or another and his motivations become clearer to the audience. Dog Day Afternoon is a somewhat message movie that is clearly anti-establishment, in this case anti-police and questioning of the government and the financial establishment, (Lumet also directed Network, also challenging establishment). This is evidenced when after a standoff with police, the crowd sides with Sonny as he chants Attica! Attica!, which is a direct reference to a recent prison riot. Sonny speaks for the working class- the poor, struggling, underpaid worker who cannot afford to feed or adequately take care of their families. The heat and humidity compares perfectly to the pressure felt by most middle class people that still resonates today and leaves the viewer contemplating his or her life. Sonny relates to the bank tellers who do not make much money. In addition, Sonny is sympathetic to the audience in another way. Leon, recently hospitalized at Bellevue hospital, is emotionally dependent on Sonny. He would be lost without him. They share a lengthy and heartfelt phone conversation that is the heart of the film- gay romance had not been explored this way by 1975 in cinema, and the romance was neither shoved down the audience’s throat, nor was it looked past entirely. Their relationship is tender and deep, yet still somewhat ambiguous. Would they stay together? What would become of Sonny’s wife and two children? Would he leave them for Leon in a world that clearly was not ready to accept two homosexual men together? Is that the reason for Leon’s desire for a sex change operation? Chris Sarandon, in too small a part, is wonderful as the gay lover, struggling with sexual identity crisis. Al Pacino gives, per usual, a brilliant portrayal as he takes on a complex character who is far from one-dimensional.

Perhaps not a masterpiece, Dog Day Afternoon, is a very good film, but neither is it strictly a gay themed movie nor an action/thriller- it’s more complex than that. Ironically, Sonny is portrayed as the hero of the film as it is definitely not a standard good police versus bad bank robber’s type of film- quite the contrary. It is much, much more than that.

Contracted-2013

Contracted-2013

Director-Eric England

Starring-Najarra Townsend

Scott’s Review #184

70296585

Reviewed October 12, 2014

Grade: B-

It seems that many reviewers of Contracted are looking for a deeper meaning to the film or debating whether a particular scene was a rape or a consensual sexual act- I looked for neither and just took the 2013 independent horror film at face value. I do not view the film as particularly worth over-analyzing or delving too much beneath the surface.

The plot is rather basic- Samantha is a young woman on the outs with her girlfriend Nikki. She goes to a party where her friend Alice gets her drunk and Samantha winds up talking to a handsome stranger named BJ. Samantha agrees to have sex with him in his car, but at one point begs him to stop. It is unclear what transpires at this point. The next morning Samantha wakes up feeling strange- she assumes she is simply hung-over, but gradually her hair, teeth, and fingernails begin to fall out and her eyes are hideously bloodshot. Her symptoms slowly worsen as she transforms into a strange monster. In the mix are supporting characters, Riley, who is in love with Samantha despite the fact that she is a lesbian and clearly rebuffs all of his advances, and Samantha’s Mom, who is convinced that Samantha is using drugs again (which she is).

I did not find the film to be a metaphor for punishing women or lesbians for a one-night stand- I viewed it as a fun, Saturday late-night, horror flick. If I were to dissect the film in a critical way, the premise is rather absurd- a young woman turning into a zombie/monster after having sexual relations with a stranger? Silly, but I am not expecting highbrow art from this type of film. The acting- especially of the actress portraying Samantha is below average at best- horrid at worst. The three central female characters (Samantha, Nikki, and Alice) are presumably all lesbians or bi-sexual and, especially, Nikki, is irritated when a man dares to hit on her, as if they should magically already know she is a lesbian. In fact, the character of Nikki is very unlikeable- she seldom returns Samantha’s phone calls and continually pushes her away. I did not buy any of the three as lesbians- not to be stereotypical, but they each had extremely fem, and feminine only, qualities. The way Samantha’s mother kept insisting that Samantha was on drugs became irritating by the fifth time she brought it up. Why did Riley pursue Samantha ad-nauseam when he was aware that she was a lesbian? What is BJ’s motivation for presumably giving Samantha a drug? She was already drunk enough to have sex with him- why did he want to turn her into a monster? This plot point is unclear.

The film is not character driven, is strictly plot driven, and like most horror films, meant to be that way. The finale of the film is actually quite satisfying as Samantha’s fate, along with her mother’s, is left up in the air. The same cannot be said for Nikki or Alice as both receive their just desserts. Contracted is not a masterpiece, but is a fun little horror film to be enjoyed- just don’t ask too many questions.

Salo-1975

Salo-1975

Director-Pier Paolo Pasolini

Starring-Paolo Bonacelli

Top 100 Films-#32      Top 10 Disturbing Films-#1    

Scott’s Review #183 

70099045

Reviewed October 9, 2014

Grade: A

 Salo is a deeply disturbing, highly controversial, Italian art film from 1975 that is not for the squeamish nor for the prudish. Many people will revile this film for its distastefulness and despise the film entirely- that is if they even give it a chance, which, unfortunately, many people will refuse to. But beyond the filth, perversion, and hatefulness that are themes of Salo, lies a film that is a work of art and must be experienced by the most open minded of cinema lovers.

The film is a dreamlike experience that centers on four wealthy Fascist Italian men of great importance and power, circa 1944, who decide to kidnap eighteen teenage boys and girls- the youngsters must be the cream of the crop and flawless in appearance, only the most attractive will do- one girl missing a tooth is immediately cast aside as a reject. Whether the girl flaunted her marred appearance is open to interpretation.

The youths are then taken to an enormous palace where they are stripped of all clothing and forced to endure four months of torture, sexual perversions, and humiliations at the whim of and for the entertainment of their captors. Finally, at the end of their terms, most are tortured to death by way of scalping, removal of tongues, or having their sexual organs burned off. Also living in the palace are four aging prostitutes who enthrall the men, along with the reluctant prisoners, with tales of kinky and perverted sexual encounters from their younger days mostly involving anal sex.

The film is divided into four sections based on Dante’s Divine comedy: the Anteinferno, the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit, and the Circle of Blood. In one sadistically disturbing scene, one of the young girls is forced to eat human excrement by one of her wealthy captors. In another, during the Circle of Shit, everyone dines on a meal consisting of human excrement where lewd sex occurs. One of the female prisoners is tricked into eating food laced with nails- a contest to determine who has the best buttocks results in the winner being brutally murdered. Everyone in the film is bisexual and there are repeated scenes of extreme, almost pornographic, violent sex scenes.

On a side note, most of the youngsters (non-actors) reported having a ball while filming Salo, and knew not what the film was really about, so the feeling on the set was light-hearted, nothing like the finished product.

While deeply disturbing, Salo is a film that some, or many, will simply not get or look beyond the obvious for a deeper message. It is a masterpiece in its ugliness, rawness, and political statements and is quite artistic once one gets past the brutality and rawness of the film.

Salo contains much political symbolism- the excrement serves as the filth of Nazi Germany and authoritarian figures throughout Europe such as Hitler and Mussolini, the abuse of power that was rampant during the time period of the film (World War II era), and the entire film is about the abuse that powerful people (the wealthy fascists equate to powerful Germans) inflicted on the weak (the innocent boys and girls mirror the Jews and the weak).

Is Salo a disturbing, grotesque film? It absolutely is. Is it mindless torture for the sake of torture like movies as extreme as Saw and Hostel? It is not. It is an art film, not a horror film. Banned in many countries for decades due to the extreme content of rape, murder, and torture of individuals thought to be under the age of eighteen, it remains widely banned to this day in several countries. Many film makers, actors, and historians struggle to maintain the artistic merit of the film.

To fully get Salo, one was delve into the mind of the film makers and recognize that it is a statement film, filled with symbolism that challenges and questions the politics of its time. Director, Pier Paolo Pasolini, was brutally murdered by a male prostitute shortly prior to the film’s release. Salo is one of the most disturbing films I have ever viewed.

The Sixth Sense-1999

The Sixth Sense-1999

Director-M. Night Shyamalan

Starring-Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment

Top 100 Films-#56     Top 20 Horror Films-#15

Scott’s Review #182

26797528

Reviewed October 8, 2014

Grade: A

The Sixth Sense is a psychological thriller/horror film directed by M. Night Shyamalan, made in 1999, about ghosts, that was an incredible box-office and critical success at its time of release and made the line, “I see dead people” universally imitated.

Bruce Willis stars as Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a successful and admired child psychologist, who lives a perfect life with his wife Anna in Philadelphia. Enjoying a romantic night at home, Malcolm and Anna are interrupted by a deranged former patient- played by an unrecognizable Donnie Walhberg. Malcolm is shot by the patient, who also shoots himself, and the story picks up a year later as Malcolm takes an interest in Cole, a troubled 9 year old boy, played by Haley Joel Osment. Cole is a peculiar boy- an outcast taunted at school, who can see the dead. His worried, over-worked mother, Lynn, is played by Toni Collette. Meanwhile, Malcolm and Anna appear to be going through marital problems and lack any meaningful communication towards each other. Anna begins to be pursued by a new beau much to Malcolm’s chagrin. Malcolm and Cole develop a special bond as Malcolm convinces Cole to speak to and help the ghosts that he sees rather than be terrified of them.

As the plot slowly unfolds, Cole helps a recently deceased girl named Kyra Collins, who is around his age. Kyra gives Cole a videotape that reveals she was murdered and proves who killed her. The subsequent scene is my favorite- there is a haunting quality to it and the camera follows the events in an interesting fashion- slowly and sedately. The setting is a wake at Kyra’s house where family and friends are gathered to pay respects and support Kyra’s parents. Malcolm and Cole arrive and present Kyra’s father with the plain videotape. The entire scene is powerful in its simplicity yet high emotional value. It is slow, but devastating in its climax and reveal. Small nuances are revealed- why is Kyra’s mother wearing bright red when the other guests are all wearing black? Will Kyra’s younger sister be the next victim? Superlative  film making.

A scene involving Cole’s teacher is riveting- being able to sense aspects about people’s pasts Cole realizes his teacher had a stuttering problem as a child. When his teacher is condescending towards Cole, the young boy explodes with rage and begins a chant of “Stuttering Stanley” that reduces the teacher to childhood traumas. Yet another powerful scene involves Cole and his mother sitting in a car caught in traffic- Cole admits the truth of his skill of seeing dead people to her and introduces an emotional story to her as proof. This is a scene where Toni Collette shines brightly.

Clearly, well over a decade since The Sixth Sense was released, most people know the twist and subsequent surprise ending and it is such a joy to go back, see the manipulations in the story and individual scenes, add them all up, and revel in the clever way that Shyamalan puts them all together. The Sixth Sense is not dated and is quite fresh, holding up tremendously, and I personally still get chills during the big reveal all these years later. But more than this pleasure, the film is written beautifully. Somewhere between horror and psychological thriller, it successfully tells a ghost story with interesting characters and jump out of your seat thrills that are not contrived and predictable in the traditional horror film way.

From an acting perspective, Bruce Willis is amazing and under-appreciated as Malcolm- he is calm, cool, collected and his performance is quite understated as the inquisitive and pensive psychologist. More praise should have been reaped on Willis. Haley Joel Osment gives an astounding performance of a lifetime- he emits an image to the audience of being strange yet sympathetic and he relays his very frightening fear of the ghosts so well that the pain and conflict he endures is evident on his face. Toni Collette is effective as the scared, concerning, haggard mother. Collette and Osment were rewarded with Academy award nominations- sadly Willis was not. Shyamalan was subsequently ridiculed for his later films (The Village and Unbreakable) – perhaps the manipulation and trickery from The Sixth Sense angered some people?

The Sixth Sense is a film that remains with you for days, weeks, even years and can be revisited and rediscovered for an intelligent, chilling good time.

Gone Girl-2014

Gone Girl-2014

Director-David Fincher

Starring-Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike

Scott’s Review #181

70305893

Reviewed October 6, 2014

Grade: A-

Gone Girl, directed by dark yet mainstream filmmaker David Fincher, offers a simple premise- an affluent woman disappears without warning and a loved one is suspected of the crime. This type of story has been done many times before in film- think Prisoners from 2013 to cite a very recent example, but what makes Gone Girl unique is its storytelling, pacing, and twists and turns aplenty.

The film is based on the best-selling novel, written by popular novelist Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the films screenplay. Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a man in his 30’s, whose wife Amy, magnificently played by Rosamund Pike, mysteriously disappears, causing a media frenzy to ensue. After clues are revealed, Nick is thought to be a sociopath and responsible for Amy’s disappearance. Nick and Amy have the perfect marriage….or so it appears. Until fairly recently Nick and Amy have lived an idyllic, well-to-do lifestyle in New York City. Amy’s family is wealthy and  write as successful children’s authors. Following the recession of 2010 causing both Nick and Amy to lose their jobs and all of their money, combined with Nick’s parent’s health problems, they wind up in a state of peril and their marriage is severely tested. They are forced to move to a small town in Missouri where Nick grew up. Their lifestyle completely changes. These facts are naturally revealed as the film progresses, via flashbacks, mostly told from Amy’s perspective, as she chronicles events by writing in her diary. The story is so smart and layered that the audience continually asks questions throughout the film- Is Amy dead? Did she fake her own death? Is Nick involved or innocent? Could Amy’s parents be involved in her disappearance? Can we trust Nick’s sister Margo? What involvement does Amy’s wealthy college sweetheart Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris) have? As more of the plot is revealed new questions are asked.

Intelligently written, with twists and turns galore, after a slow start, the film is a thrill-ride. The slow start is necessary to lay the groundwork of the film and it wisely keeps the audience guessing throughout. The film seems to be a puzzle (literally and figuratively) as each layer is unraveled leading to further questions and new theories. The films score is composed by Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), which adds a dark, techno-gloomy feel, which increases the mood wonderfully. The acting in Gone Girl is very good- Affleck is capable in the lead male role, though I did not find the part as meaty as one might think. Affleck is clearly handsome and charismatic, though unlikeable too, and I think that is all the part really requires. The standout, and breakout performance belongs to Rosamund Pike. For years struggling along in support film roles as someone’s wife or friend, Pike finally has a complex role that allows her to sink her teeth in. Pike displays almost every emotion- kindness, anger, rage, deception, humor. The character of Amy is nuanced and certainly resourceful and more than one movie-goers mouth dropped open at her actions in a couple of scenes- think wine bottle and hammer for reference. Neil Patrick Harris is dynamic in the role of Desi- he brings a healthy dose of creepiness mixed with child-like sweetness.

Gone Girl features one of the most shocking scenes in recent history involving a bedroom, a box-cutter, and lots of blood. Fincher’s setting of North Carthage, Missouri is interesting- hardly the intelligentsia of Manhattan that Nick and Amy are accustomed to, the perfect mix of homespun kindness turned lynch mob of the townspeople is effectively portrayed- the sweet neighbors, happily offering casseroles and hugs to Nick one minute, suddenly turn into sharks when a detail is revealed. The media is, almost ironically, portrayed as menacing and ready to pounce- mainly female reporters played by Sela Ward and deliciously and comically played by Missi Pyle. In fact, more than a handful of female characters are written as borderline man-hating and eager to either castrate, figuratively speaking, or bed (or both!), Nick Dunne.

Gone Girl contains a few plot holes- how could there be no recorded tapes of the goings-on’s at Desi’s lake house? The entire plot is so far-fetched when one decides to ponder it. Gone Girl is a mainstream yet dark Hollywood thrill-ride with a theme of dishonesty, and a film exceptionally well-written and layered.

Marnie-1964

Marnie-1964

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Sean Connery, Tippi Hedren

Scott’s Review #180

60000769

Reviewed October 4, 2014

Grade: A

 When evaluating a myriad of Alfred Hitchcock films,  Marnie certainly stands as one of the more complicated of his films, and in recent years has earned higher praise than at the time of release- a la Vertigo. It contains one of the most complex and psychological Hitchcock characters of all time and is as much a character study as a psychological thriller.

Tippi Hedren stars as Marnie Edgar, a troubled young woman who travels from one financial company to another using a false identity and her good looks to insinuate her way into a clerical job, without references- she then, over time, steals thousands from the companies when her trust is gained. Eventually, she is caught by Mark Rutland, a handsome, wealthy widower and a client of one of the firms, played by Sean Connery. Infatuated with Marnie, he strikes a deal with her- marry him and he will not turn her over to the police. Marnie sends most of her stolen money to her crippled mother, Bernice, in Baltimore- played by Louise Latham. Why Bernice is crippled, avoids affection with Marnie, why Marnie despises most men, and is terrified of the color red make up the film’s mysterious nature. Diane Baker is compelling as Lil, the snoop, sister-in-law to Mark and somewhat nemesis of Marnie.

The film features three scenes I am enamored with each time I watch- in one scene, Marnie hides and waits in the bathroom until all the employees have gone home for the night; she carefully steals money from her employer’s safe and prepares to leave- suddenly she notices an unaware cleaning woman with her back to Marnie yet blocking the exit. How will Marnie escape unnoticed? The surprise in this scene is wonderful. Hitchcock plays the scene with no music, which adds to the level of tension- brilliant.

In an emotional scene later in the film, Marnie’s horse, Forio, is injured and a sobbing Marnie must choose between killing her beloved friend or let him suffer until a veterinarian can be summoned. It is a heart-wrenching scene.

The third scene takes place at a racetrack as Marnie and Mark are enjoying one of their first dates together, before Mark learns the truth about Marnie- the date is ruined when a former victimized employer of Marnie’s recognizes and makes accusations towards her. Marnie turns from sweet girl to ice queen seamlessly.

A huge controversial aspect of the film is that, while not shown, it is heavily implied that Mark rapes Marnie on their honeymoon. The next morning Marnie attempts suicide, but is rescued by Mark. This scene had to have been filmed carefully as to not make Mark hated. Perhaps saving Marnie the next morning lessens what he did the night before in the eyes of the audience? This is open to debate.

Hedren is fantastic at showing the complexities of the character of Marnie throughout the entire film and does a wonderful job in a difficult role. As excellent as Hedren is (and she is amazing), I have difficulty buying her as a poor, icy criminal and this comes up each time I view the film. Could this be a result of having identified Hedren as the sophisticated, glamorous, socialite in The Birds made a year earlier so many times? This is quite possibly so.

During the filming of Marnie, the set was reportedly fraught with tension, mainly between Hedren and Hitchcock, who refused to speak with each other throughout filming. This may have added to the overall tension the film has and Hedren appears anxious throughout. Could this be art imitating life? As the ending nears, Marnie and Mark align together and form a team as they try to avoid the police altogether- Mark more or less becoming an accomplice.

The final reveal seems rushed, takes place mostly in flashbacks, and wraps up quickly as Marnie has apparently blocked much of her childhood from her memory, which seems far-fetched. Still, Marnie is a complex, psychological classic Hitchcock film from his heyday.

The Skeleton Twins-2014

The Skeleton Twins-2014

Director-Craig Johnson

Starring-Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig

Scott’s Review #179

70299272

Reviewed October 2, 2014

Grade: A-

The Skeleton Twins is a tremendous, character-driven, family drama that focuses on character development rather than standard plot devices. The film stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig from Saturday Night Live, but do not be fooled based on the actors involved that The Skeleton Twins is a light comedy- it is not. Certainly, there are laugh out loud scenes throughout, but this is a serious story about depression, suicide, and anger, and at times, is very dark. Wiig plays Maggie, a woman in her thirties who seemingly has it all- Lance, her handsome, loyal husband, played by Luke Wilson, adores her. She has a stable job as a dental hygienist, and lives a quiet, quaint life in upstate New York- seemingly enjoying a happy middle class existence. Hader plays Milo, Maggie’s estranged twin brother, who lives in Los Angeles and is a struggling actor with no agent, reduced to waiting tables in a lousy restaurant. Presumably just out of a relationship, Milo attempts suicide by slitting his wrists. Maggie flies to Los Angeles to visit Milo in the hospital and invites him to recuperate with Maggie and Lance in New York. Having grown up as best friends, they reconnect once Milo moves in.

The Skeleton Twins is so jammed packed with interesting story, both current and back story, that it becomes effortless to fall in love with Maggie and Milo. When the twins were aged 14, their father committed suicide by jumping off a bridge, a father they were very connected to. Their mother, played by Joanna Gleason, was a horrible mother growing up and, in present times, is a hippie involved in an interracial marriage. She awkwardly visits Maggie and Milo and attempts to heal them through meditation. Other character history is revealed- Milo, who is gay, was molested by his teacher when he was 15 years old, a teacher he is still in love with, and is wonderfully played against type by Ty Burrell. Maggie has carried on affairs with various men throughout her marriage to Lance and is secretly using birth control pills to avoid becoming pregnant- Lance happily thinks they are trying to conceive. The characters of Milo and Maggie are incredibly layered and well written- they are both damaged from a difficult childhood, suffer from depression, and now only have each other- rich material. Scenes in The Skeleton Twins range from hysterical- a scene in a dentists office involving laughing gas is roll on the floor funny and a lip- synching scene to the 1980’s schmaltzy hit “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”, are both absolutely wonderful, to shocking- scenes where Milo and Maggie go at each other with gusto, dredging up childhood wounds, are brilliantly acted by Wiig and Hader.

The chemistry between Wiig and Hader is incredible and both actors are very successful at playing hysterical comedy versus dark drama, which impressed me. Luke Wilson is great in support as the straight laced, nice guy married to Maggie. A slight criticism- the character of Milo is written as stereotypically gay- man hungry and hardly a man’s man-He has trouble clearing brush because presumably he is too girly to handle the task- I wish more films would steer away from these stereotypes.  Ty Burrell’s character of Rich is so complex that I wish he would have been explored a bit more- being gay how can things work with his girlfriend while harboring many secrets? Is he still in love with Milo despite repeatedly pushing him away? I would have loved more depth to this complex character. At the conclusion of the film we are left with relief that the filmmakers did not go as dark as they could have, and audiences will know what I mean following the final scene. There is no fairy tale ending ether. Milo and Maggie are damaged goods who only have each other and that makes for a dynamic character rich film.