Skeleton Twins portends to be the big break for writer/director Craig Johnson, whose excellent first film True Adolescents is under seen and underappreciated. He links up with stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig and the film was loved at Sundance, where it received the Screenwriting Award. Its current Rotten Tomatoes score is 100%. All five of my friends that I saw the film with were beaming afterwards. Unfortunately, I was the disappointed one.
Coming to Skeleton Twins as a fan of True Adolescents, I expected the same feeling of awkward reality. Not that True Adolescents is awkward, but that it conveys the awkwardness of human beings. We are too strange and unique to be most movie characters. This came through with not only newcomers Bret Loehr and Carr Thompson, but also seasoned indie-star Mark Duplass. Conversely, Skeleton Twins felt too famous with Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Ty Burrell, and Luke Wilson. By using talented comedic actors, who are certainly on their game in this film, I had trouble shifting between the comedy and drama. It’s not that there should be less or more of either, but that the gap between the two was unbridgeable. I know that all these actors have the dramatic chops, as we’ve seen from Wiig in Bridesmaids and Wilson in Enlightened. Johnson proved his talents as a writer/director on True Adolescents, but this film just doesn’t mix those sentiments well enough.
However, Hader and Wiig are still very good in this film. It has dramatic moments that had me in tears. To be clear, I’m disappointed because I hoped this would be a great movie. It’s not, but it’s very, very good and that’s something worth seeing when it comes to theaters and VOD in September.
Given the IFF Boston program description of Trap Street, as a film about a digital mapping surveyor who encounters a mysterious woman on an unmappable street, I was not expecting a political film about the hyper-control of the Chinese government through surveillance and physical intimidation. The film begins innocently, as a young man who surveys streets for digital mapping strikes up a flirtation with a mysterious Chinese woman named Guan Lifen. He finds her on a street that cannot be surveyed; it doesn’t quite “fit with the system.” Wenchao He is electric as Guan Lifen. The camera’s fascination with Guan Lifen reminded me of Godard’s for Anna Karina. This aspect of the film stood out most, so when it became about the government, I was less enthused.
It’s not that this isn’t an important and riveting topic, but I preferred the exploration in the documentary Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry. That film was more shocking and affecting, in part because it’s documenting a real scary moment of government overreach. Again, I found myself comparing this film to better works. Yet still, there are moments of striking visuals that stick in my mind above everything else I watched on Thursday, especially the last shot of the film. More than anything, you should watch this film for the pedigree of first-time director Vivian Qu who produced recent Berlin Golden Bear winner Black Coal, Thin Ice and shows talent behind the camera with Trap Street.