Improv comedy is a cult-like world where nothing is planned, you perform based on your wits, and the term “yes, and” is paramount. Your team is only as strong as its weakest link and the minute one member strays from the pack for his or her own self interest, the group starts to crumble and things aren’t that funny anymore. Mike Birbiglia’s latest, DON’T THINK TWICE, follows The Commune, a small improv group in New York and how the aspects of improv are unexpectedly incorporated in their relationships off stage. Grounded and emotionally wrought with feelings that are all too real for thirtysomethings stuck between Gen X and the Millennial generation, Don’t Think Twice confronts failure in the best way possible: with brutal honesty and bittersweet humor.
In the movie, Commune members and friends Miles (Birbiglia), Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), Allison (Kate Micucci), Bill (Chris Gethard), and Lindsay (Tami Sagher) hone their improv chops every night to an appreciative crowd of comedy nerds. Every night they kill it and every day they go to their menial jobs that pay the bills. Nonetheless, they find comfort and joy in improv despite everyone sharing the bigger dream of being cast on the SNL-like late-night sketch show Weekend Live.
Things start to look bleak for the group when they find out that their theater is closing, but a silver lining is found when they learn producers from Weekend Live will be scouting talent during one of their final performances. When two of the members get asked to audition for the show, it starts to affect their improv team and more importantly, their friendships.
Don’t Think Twice is a satisfying follow-up to Birbiglia’s you-probably-haven’t-seen-it-but-should directorial debut Sleepwalk With Me. Both set in the world of comedy, Birbiglia continues to showcase his unique voice as filmmaker with self-deprecating humor and the depressing flipside of funny with endearing underdog characters you can’t help but root for.
What the stand-up comedian-turned-director does best is maintain the humor with a natural, seemingly unplanned smoothness (just like improv) while stripping the story of any Hollywood sheen. The result is a film that’s human, personal, and strangely cathartic in that it suggests that resenting your more successful friends is a perfectly normal emotional reaction.
In the movie, when one of the Commune members snags spot in the Weekend Live cast, there’s an immediate, awkward mix of happiness and jealousy among the group. Birbiglia explores the complexities of working in a creative but highly competitive field where, no matter how hard the players try to suppress their envy and, in some cases, rage, its bound to fester to the surface. It’s a truth Birbiglia doesn’t sugarcoat, while also acknowledging that it’s what you do with your resentment that matters the most.
The film’s theme of failure vs. success is enjoyably real and dirty. More than that, it shows how the dynamic between a group of friends can change once the equilibrium of failure and success starts to shift. In this particular case, it’s in the entertainment world, a ruthless business that can make people become shells of themselves, question their self-worth and force them to give up on their dreams. Sad, I know, but – again, like good improv – there’s something about the raw, unvarnished honesty in Don’t Think Twice that’s painfully funny.
Running time: 92 minutes
Dino-Ray Ramos watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer