“Don’t Think Twice” celebrates the craft of improvisational comedy and offers an intimate glimpse into what creative types think of their chosen profession. Real life comedian Mike Birbiglia takes on the dual duties of writer and director, so it’s no wonder the film is an immensely insightful and astute observation of the live comedy scene. In fact, I think this film suffers because it is a bit too insightful, making it difficult for people outside of the industry to relate to the characters and situations presented. I’m not a performer myself but I understand how the entertainment world works, and that definitely added to my enjoyment and understanding of the movie.
Do not go into this film expecting to laugh because it’s not funny: this is more of a savvy drama about the struggles of chasing mid-level fame, and it has a deeply melancholy tone at times. There are two improv phrases that are repeatedly uttered throughout the film: “don’t think” and “got your back,” both a brilliant way of expressing the themes on display.
Best friends Miles (Birbiglia), Sam (Gillian Jacobs), Allison (Kate Micucci), Lindsay (Tami Sagher), Bill (Chris Gethard), and Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) are members of the small New York City comedy troupe, The Commune. They perform to a small audience of $5 ticket holders at night and hold down menial (hummus peddling at the supermarket) to respectable (teaching improv classes) day jobs to pay the rent. In between, there’s a lot of pot smoking, creative writing, and casual sex to fill their days. When one member of the troupe makes it to the big time and is cast on Weekend Live (read: Saturday Night Live), the remaining five pals are overcome with an overwhelming sense of loss and betrayal.
This film paints a painful, honest, and raw picture of what it must feel like to be a struggling comedian and explores the need for constant validation and approval. There’s a certain competitive streak that’s a part of human nature, and it’s something that most friendships cannot survive. It’s close to heartbreaking to watch the characters one by one coping with not only outright rejection, but also with the realization and eventual acceptance that their big break is never coming.
The movie is bogged down with an ending that’s far too sappy, but the performances from the ensemble cast are strong and poignant. You’ll find yourself rooting for these people even if you can’t relate to their life choices. Their suffering feels so real that you’ll care about what happens in their (fictional) lives.
“Don’t Think Twice” is a bittersweet ode to resentment and friendship, but ultimately is a swan song about growing up.
A small “Second-City”-esque improv comedy troupe lives and performs together in New York City. Miles (Mike Birbiglia) heads the group that includes his friends Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), Allison (Kate Micucci), Lindsay (Tami Sagher), Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), and Bill (Chris Gethard). Many of the troupe’s performers have gone on to be featured on or write for an SNL-like show, but others like Miles tend to be overlooked by the show time and again. When one of the close-knit group gets called up to the majors, jealousy takes over and infighting threatens to tear the friends apart.
Written and directed by comedian Birbiglia, “Don’t Think Twice” is a fresh look into something most of us know little about: the lives of professional improvisational comedians. We follow the performers through their daily lives; we observe them warm up to go on stage every night, we see them prepare for auditions, and we watch them watch other comedians and critique them. Although the movie isn’t shot in a documentary style, the pedigree of each of the actors (each of whom has experience in sketch or stand-up comedy) lends it an air of authenticity that you rarely find in a narrative film.
It’s also entertaining in its own right. While it’s not precisely a comedy, there are a number of genuinely funny moments. Driven by their obvious affection for the subject matter, the performances by the actors are all heartfelt. The writing is clever, and Birbiglia’s direction is self-assured. Films this insightful are uncommon, and it’s a pleasure to have discovered this one.