Just as it wobbles along a precarious ledge between solid drama and airborne comedy, "The Skeleton Twins" maintains a tremulous middle distance between success and failure. Its stars, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, always two bright spots on the increasingly dismal "Saturday Night Live," do stellar work as Milo and Maggie Dean, twins slogging through early adulthood burdened with a busload of baggage. Dad killed himself when they were quite young, and though they haven't seen each other in years, Maggie is about to take an overdose herself when she gets the call that Milo has slit his wrists. Coincidence? Or the magic of twinship? Either way, an opening like that is hardly the stuff of a rollicking good time.
But Hader and Wiig -- and "Modern Family's" Ty Burrell, as Milo's long-ago teacher/lover -- all prove that comedians can make the most graceful transitions into drama while, in this case, generating laughs as well. Director Craig Johnson's script, co-written with Mark Heyman, is mordantly droll, whether it's involving the married Maggie's affair with her scuba teacher (Boyd Holbrook), or the twins' exchanges with Maggie's literal-minded husband, Lance (a terrific Luke Wilson), or even the visit from their maternal-instinct-free mother, played by the always reliable and occasionally dragon-like Joanna Gleason.
But the script feels rather smugly constructed and breathless. Johnson's contribution is less about direction than getting out of the way of actors who might have used a little more guidance, or just a little less freedom. Even with performers as likable as Hader and Wiig, and characters as likable as Milo and Maggie, sympathy should be earned. Like an cocksure banker, Johnson takes our investment for granted.
PLOT Twins joined at the cosmic hip try to transition out of their childhood trauma. RATING R (language, sexuality, drugs)
CAST Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Ty Burrell, Luke Wilson
BOTTOM LINE Less identical to a great movie than fraternal