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The following is a written review, but be sure to listen (above) to our in-depth examination of the film. In New York City, one of the hottest improv comedy troupes around is called The Commune, led by talented but troubled founder Miles (Mike Birbiglia). With him are Allison (Kate Micucci), a nebbish girl who has long been working on a graphic novel, Lindsay (Tami Sagher) who has dreams but lives off wealthy parents, Bill (Chris Gethard) who questions the work even if he loves doing it, and Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), arguably the most promising who tends to showboat. Lastly is Jack’s girlfriend Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), the troupe’s emcee and most insecure.
Their small theater is always full and the group, though tensions persist, work incredibly well. Then comes news that staff from Weekend Live, a Saturday Night Live-type comedy skit show will attend a show, and it’s Miles who feels the most excitement, having auditioned previously thinking this might be a second chance. But on the night of the show, it’s Jack who takes center stage and when it’s over, he and Sam get a call. It immediately causes a riff and then, when Sam chooses not to take the audition–feeling she’s not ready for it–Jack nails it and gets hired. It crumbles the team and all the inner bitterness boils to the surface, all realizing that nothing is as sure as their dreams always seem to be.
Directed by Mike Birbiglia, who is the writer and one of the stars, Don’t Think Twice is a stirring film less about the jokes than that of family, even if that family is not conventional. The world of improv and the people who struggle to exist in its chaotic imbalance is the foundation of the story but it is the characters who keep us watching. In a film that almost feels biographical for many who are in the cast, this is a unique experience and peak behind the curtains. These are independent-minded artists that are entirely dependent on the person next to them, thriving in an abyss where most would fall away forever in but as a group flourish, no matter how fragile their hold is. Birbiglia wonderfully places us amid these delicate yet unbending relationships and easily has us invested in where it will all go.
There is no star of the movie per se, though the dynamic presence of Key is undeniable, but unlike his character, who can’t seem to help himself from living in the spotlight, he is part of the ensemble that all keep their place, though Micucci is decidedly less visible than the others. The story hinges on whether the troupe can sustain itself, especially after the loss of Jack to Weekend Live, and the film gives weight to their backstories but is never manipulative in that presentation, even when Bill’s father has a motorcycle accident. These are people that feel symbiotic, so when one suffers, they all do, and even though there is animosity when one succeeds, they still react as a group.
What works best about Don’t Think Twice is the authenticity. None of these characters are cliché, each well-defined and devoid of the tropes we might expect. Sam is fearful of change and moving forward, but that never makes her weak. Jack isn’t a braggart or self-delusional jerk, but a sensitive and worrisome man who cares deeply about those he left behind. These are not shallow archetypes but rather honest members of a band of true friends. There is a fluidity to the dialogue that is surely a bit of script and improv that never feels practiced but rather organic. That means it’s full of truths, a bit funny, a bit troubling, a bit uncomfortable, and yet always genuine.
Movie description: Don't Think Twice is a 2016 comedy-drama about a member of a comedy troupe who gets a big break and the effects it has on those that didn't.
Director(s): Mike Birbiglia
Actor(s): Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Mike Birbiglia