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The Skeleton Twins

“Saturday Night Live” fans (assuming there still are any) will probably get the wrong impression when they see that this film stars SNL alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. The film is not lacking for humor, but it’s not a comedy, as it makes clear from the get-go.

We open on Milo (Hader), a gay would-be actor in Los Angeles, getting ready to slit his wrists in his bathtub. He starts to write a suicide note, but can come up with no more particular salutation than “To whom it may concern.”

Across the country Maggie (Wiig), the twin sister he hasn’t spoken to in a decade, is getting ready to swallow a fistful of pills when she gets a call from the hospital: Milo was found in time, and she’s the relative they have on file. She invites him to recover at the house she shares in Nyack with her husband Lance (Luke Wilson), and the stage is set for Big Drama.

Fortunately, writer-director Craig Johnson and co-writer Mark Heyman don’t aim that big. The shared family closet has plentiful skeletons (which is a good an explanation I can think of for the title), but they don’t get rattled too much.

Like The Savages, which starred Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as an estranged sibling pair, The Skeleton Twins works due to the chemistry between its stars. Hader and Wiig look nothing alike, but they’ve worked together so much (not only on SNL) that they have a palpable rapport.

The key to Wiig’s success as a comic player has always been that, with her long face and downward mouth, she naturally looks dour and gloomy. Her character here is in many ways similar to the one she played in Bridesmaids, just pushed a little further and in a different context. Hader is the one reaching outside his comfort zone, and though his dialogue contains maybe more stereotypically gay sarcasm than is absolutely necessary (“Another tragic gay cliché” is how he welcomes Maggie in his hospital room), it helps him make the transition more easily.

The Skeleton Twins doesn’t offer any tidy resolutions for its injured characters. That may or may not be to your liking; personally, I think the best way to wrap up material as melodramatic as this is to leave the characters in a position where we feel that better times are ahead for them. It’s more important that we come to care about them, and at that it succeeds.

Opens Friday at the Amherst and Eastern Hills Mall Theaters.

Watch the trailer for The Skeleton Twinss

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