Thursday, October 23, 2014

"The Skeleton Twins": the Duplass Brothers give us a dramedy with a disturbing and unconvincing back story

The Skeleton Twins” (directed by Craig Johnson) starts with an image of Milo (a hairy-chested Bill Hader) reclining in his bathtub, and then we see the redness of hemoglobin in the water.  Then we see Maggie (Kristen Wiig), whom we will learn soon is his fraternal twin sister, assembling the sleeping pills she will take, when she gets a cell phone call that her brother is in the hospital.  It was only the loud music of Milo’s LA apartment that attracted help in time.  We’ll say now that this film is a wannabe romantic comedy, and does not go the course of “Wristcutters: a Love Story”.  Milo will wear wrist bandages and covers for the rest of the movie.
Milo and Maggie must have a lot of genes in common: they’re both unstable, and both attracted to men.  Maggie invites Milo to come stay with her in upstate New York while he recovers.
Milo has work problems.  He says he is an actor, but he can’t get work without an agent.  I’ve heard that one before. Maggie encourages him to get a menial job doing yard and brush removal work.  He’s not very good at it;  his movements are slow, he doesn’t gather enough brush in one swoop, and, well, he’s lazy; he’s god to “learn to work”, as my father would have put it.  Later, Milo has trouble on a rope-climbing attraction. But it's fall, not too cold, and there will be a Halloween party. Suffice it to say, it doesn't help "politically" that the Duplass Brothers present a stereotyped gay male character as physically lazy or indifferent; I had some of those problems myself as a kid, but that is by no means "normal" in the gay male community today. 
Some of the movie is about Maggie’s own stumbling marriage, and Milo wonders if he can be a good “gay uncle”.  Maggie sees a buff-and-tattooed swimming instructor Billy (Boyd Holbrook) on the side and goes nowhere.  But the subplot that got my attention, and that strains credibility, is Milo’s relationship with former high school English teacher Rich (Ty Burrell, from “Modern Family”). 
About two decades before, Rich had a “relationship” with Milo, when Milo was only 15, the age of a high school sophomore.  So the question now is, why is Milo still “attracted” to him. Let’s add that the incident was handled “quietly”;  Rich resigned and was not prosecuted.  He rebuilt his life and has a wife and son.  He is trying to get a romantic comedy screenplay sold, and Milo even promises to get it to an agent (which, remember, Milo doesn’t have). 
One way this could have happened is that the teenager could have set it up and acted as the “aggressor”.  This idea sounds shocking, but it was behind the screenplay “The Sub” that I wrote and posted on my own site, and that caused so much consternation when I was subbing (back in 2005).  
There is a hint of that in “The Zero Theorem” (Sept. 23), when the precocious character Bob seems to be luring Leth, and Leth eventually gets in trouble for it.  But in this film, Milo has little charisma and it’s not credible that he would or could have done that as a teen.  You would think that Rich would stay as far away from Milo (and likely legal troubles, even twenty years later) as possible.  For many people, this topic isn’t funny.
The official site is here.  The film is produced by The Duplass Brothers (Jay and Mark) and isn’t exactly up to the credibility of “The Puffy Chair”.  The tagline is “Family is a cruel joke.”  The film was produced and distributed by the partnership of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions (which supplies the trailer above).  Lionsgate uses its new Wagnerian introduction.
I saw the film before a small audience at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington.  
The film has no relation to “The Skeleton Key” (2005, Iain Softley, Universal), a gothic thriller near New Orleans involving a hospice nurse.  

Picture: mountains near West Point, NY, my visit, 2011.   

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