The Skeleton Twins, a relatively low-key 2014 film festival favorite carried by amazing performances from Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as estranged twins, is a film that uses sensitive family dynamics to explore heavy themes of failure and depression. It’s hilarious at times, crushingly sad in others, and ultimately a compelling look at what life is like when it just happens instead of following the script you wrote for it in your youth.
Tucked away behind the energetic, damaged relationship that Wiig’s Maggie and Hader’s Milo share (as well as the actors themselves) is Luke Wilson’s dudebro Lance, Maggie’s average-guy husband who likes rock climbing, five-finger shoes, and eating ice cream out of a bowl on the couch. He’s got nothing in common with Milo, a gay, sarcastic, self-hating “creative” type, but he’s not the douche you’d think he would be initially by comparison. As it turns out, he’s an incredibly honest, caring, and supportive husband. He’s a puppy, but one with the kind of depth typically omitted from characters that can generally be summed up as grown-up bro.
In the beginning of the film, Maggie and Milo are both about to commit suicide on opposite sides of the country. Milo’s attempt barely goes first, so Maggie gets the hospital call and has to ditch her pill overdose, break the ten year silence between the two siblings, and bring Milo back to her home in New York. Thus the stage is set.
That these two already carry such baggage with them 15 minutes into the movie easily sets up Lance’s introduction for comedic relief — and no question, it is funny. He babbles happily through dinner topics of his and Maggie’s delayed Hawaii honeymoon, her recent affinity for scuba diving, and their efforts to get pregnant, paying no attention to Milo’s “is this guy for real?” expressions and comments along the way.
It’s easy to laugh at Lance here — he’s basically portrayed as a simpleton who isn’t really even sitting at the same table as his “deeper” dinner companions. And as the film progresses, his bumbling persona continues to be mined for laughs. When asked by Maggie what his five-finger shoes are, he responds, “they’re a hybrid,” to which she shoots back, “of what?” “A hybrid of a shoe and a foot,” he says, matter-of-factly.
A lot of praise is given to Wiig and Hader for their incredible chemistry and improvisational skills, and rightfully so. But you have to give credit to Luke Wilson for getting more out of this simple supporting role than maybe anyone could. In The Skeleton Twins he makes you feel for the type of person that is so easily ridiculed or written off because he just found out why it’s nicer to say, “we’re getting pregnant” as opposed to “she.”
As Milo spends more time with Lance one-on-one, he begins to understand that he’s actually such a loving guy who Maggie clearly doesn’t deserve. She’s a terrible wife — dishonest, uncommunicative, and brooding — and as viewers we’re sympathetic toward her because she’s a protagonist and has relatable issues. Because of that, it would be natural to take it one step further and shrug Lance’s feelings off because he’s such a “dude” who probably doesn’t even have them to begin with.
So it’s impressive, then, that through the film’s writing and Wilson’s casual-but-impactful acting style, we become empathic with Lance’s plight, and more impressive that he even has a plight to begin with. It’s almost laughable to feel for him, but only if you trip into the pitfall of labeling him as one-dimensional.
Clearly Lance is not the focal point of The Skeleton Twins, but in a ridiculous way, he might be the film’s hero. Although he seemingly lacks the qualities that make Maggie and Milo witty, dynamic, intelligent people, in reality all that he lacks is their flaws. He’s kind and caring, almost to a fault. He doesn’t lash out at people or fuss over meaningless nonesense. He knows what he likes and sticks to it.
Maybe he’s “boring,” but he isn’t any less of a person than they are. In fact, in a strange way, he’s more complete than they ever will be. Kudos to Luke Wilson for giving us a dudebro we can just appreciate without any snark. Perhaps we all need a little Lance in our lives.