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I'm ambivalent about "The Skeleton Twins" and I think I might hate mumblecore.

Here's a great hook for the Internet: I have no strong feelings one way or the other about The Skeleton Twins.  Riveting, right?

I'll hand it to Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig: they each put in amazing performances.  Luke Wilson has a good turn, too, but since he's a more minor character, nobody's celebrating him very much.

The characters are strong and believable, their inner turmoil is well-realized and immediately empathetic, and the story is tragically grounded in the banality of daily misery.  All of this is good stuff.

But it's also just kinda boring.

I don't know, maybe I'm just being an asshole.  Or maybe I've just seen one too many character pieces as of late.  Or maybe I was just in a bad mood when I watched it.  But The Skeleton Twins never really got to a point where I felt like it stood out from any other low-key drama of the last two decades.

The only truly unique thing about it is that Bill Hader's character is gay and has misguided affection for a much older man who molested him when he was a teenager.  Somehow, even that subplot, despite being the most interesting thing the movie has going for it, comes across as overly muted.

I feel like I have this attitude toward a lot of mumblecore movies.  (And now somebody is going to come along and tell me that although TST has similarities to mumblecore, it is not technically part of the subgenre for bullshit reasons that no reasonable person should be expected to know.)  They all have strong acting, they're all pleasantly realistic and understated, they all get rave reviews, and at the end of the day I just don't want to watch another one again for at least a few months.

They're like going to a shitty dentist.  Supposedly they're good for you and you'll feel better after you've been, but you just can't shake the feeling you aren't getting your money's worth and you may have just wasted your time.

Part of this is rooted in my being a writer.  I'm such a fan of the scripted word and the gestalt of a tightly-constructed plot, so seeing a production that relies heavily on improvisation and meandering character beats is anathema.  It's not that I don't think improv or free-form character exploration can lead to some cool stuff - it's just that improv is an element of storytelling rather than a form in and of itself, and a bunch of white people staring meaningfully askance every two minutes in between being cranky isn't anywhere close to the same experience as seeing a thematic and narrative arc intertwine at an emotional peak.

The Skeleton Twins is a film about suicide and the life-affirming value of love that actually does have a loose three-act structure to make a point.  But because so much of it is made in the mumblecore style, it's basically thirty minutes of plot with forty minutes of filler and chaff, much of which is either misleading or possibly even contradictory to whatever it may be trying to say.

For example: Why introduce the twins' shitty mom if your point is that familial love is stronger than even the most vile arguments you might have?  Doesn't she just muddy the waters?  You're saying that Wiig and Hader's estrangement from each other is a forgivable lapse whereas their mother's estrangement is the result of her being a terrible human being?  How does that work?  And if they can find it in their hearts to forgive each other for the shitty things they've said and done, why not do the same for their mother?  Wouldn't that be a more meaningful conclusion than having them just stare at fish?

Briefly the movie is about the frustration and depression that comes with unfulfilled (or maybe unfulfillable) potential, as Hader never makes it as a major actor the way he hoped he would and he can't stand the thought of settling into a normal, ordinary job.  This could be a good angle.  (I think I wrote a book about this exact thing once.)  But it's dropped as soon as it comes up, so why even bother?

I don't mean to harp on the movie.  It's a smaller feature that deserves a little more play and recognition than I'm sure it's getting, so I should be praising it more.  I just can't help the feeling that people are giving it a little too much credit.  Movies like Big Hero 6 or John Wick may be more fantastical and simplistic, but at least they're tonally consistent and focused.  The Skeleton Twins feels more like a really great first draft.

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