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A Dread & Two Noughts

Roadside Attractions

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig's comic rapport is the foundation of "The Skeleton Twins," a bittersweet comedy which lets the two of them bounce off each other for an amiable 90 minutes without actually breaking a sweat — or any new ground, for that matter.

The flowchart behind the film brings together sibling dysfunction, suicidal depression and a gay man's search for his place in the world — pretty much the comedy trifecta. Ms. Wiig and Mr. Hader play estranged twins, who finally reconnect after a decade when one of them ponders suicide just at the moment when the other actually tries it. This lands both of them back together in hometown New York, where recrimination and reconnection duly follow, especially around Mr. Hader's search for love.

It's not that "The Skeleton Twins" is unfunny. Those of us used to looking at the comedic rhythms of "Saturday Night Live" and its children with envy from several thousand miles away can only marvel at the effortless grace of Ms. Wiig's landing of a punchline, or Mr. Hader's knack for dancing around pathos without falling in.

But it's a dry, faintly pandering template for a screen comedy, engineered to wring tears on schedule and laughs on demand. Although the leads have fine chemistry, it can hardly count as a news flash at this late date that the funniest comedians are usually great straight actors, taking the darker stuff in their stride. And there's really nothing the film can add to the notion that finding love and getting older are bad enough on their own, and double trouble for anyone not a straight white male. It's a message that would benefit from inquiry rather than repetition, even though it has the virtue of being true.


Opens on Sept. 12 in the United States and on Nov. 7 in Britain

Directed by Craig Johnson; written by Mr. Johnson and Mark Heyman; director of photography, Reed Morano; edited by Jennifer Lee; music by Nathan Larson; production design by Ola Maslik; costumes by Kaela Wohl; produced by Stephanie Langhoff, Ms. Lee and Jacob Pechenik; released by Roadside Attractions (United States) and Sony Pictures (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Bill Hader (Milo), Kristen Wiig (Maggie), Luke Wilson (Lance), Ty Burrell (Rich), Boyd Holbrook (Billy) and Joanna Gleason (Judy).


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