Don’t Think Twice follows the cast of The Commune, a New York based improv comedy troupe run by Miles (Mike Birbiglia). Though they all have higher ambitions, they each work separate day jobs to get by. When a talent agent for Weekend Live (guess who they really mean) comes to a show one night, they’re all ready for the possibility of a big break. When Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) gets the audition, the team, and especially Miles, are forced to put their lives into perspective, as well as fight back the envy of their friend achieving their mutual dream.
This is comedian Mike Birbiglia’s second film as director (after Sleepwalk with Me) and it’s a story and subject matter you can tell he’s passionate about. There’s a definite strain of truth through this movie, you feel like the circumstances these characters are in are similar to those of their portrayers before their successes. And in that vein, Birbiglia surrounds himself with great talent, all of whom have excellent chemistry. Key of course is terrific in both the comedic and dramatic moments, Kate Micucci is as adorable as ever, Chris Gethard is both energetic and restrained, and Tami Sagher is honest and strong. The best single performance in this cast has to be Gillian Jacobs though. Her character Sam is the heart of the group, and her attachment to improv and her friends is tremendously endearing. She’s the only one really content with where her life is and with everyone around her trying to break free, it makes it easier to emotionally latch onto her. And Jacobs plays it wonderfully. I also really like how each of the characters has their own arc and backstory. Miles’ insecurity about possibly losing his dream career and not having much in his life by his mid-thirties drives a lot of the plot; as does Jack’s occasional showmanship and the pressure being placed on him both from his friends and his new employers, causing him to make some bad decisions. He’s also dating Sam which provides additional drama. And while these three are definitely more in focus, time is devoted to fleshing out the others as well. Alison (Micucci) is an introverted artist nervous about finishing her graphic novel, Lindsay (Sagher) is struggling to assert her independence from her wealthy family, and Bill (Gethard) is facing a personal crisis with his father (Richard Kline).
Despite all these character threads, the plot remains unharmed largely because they all circle a singular theme: the effect success has on one’s relationships. Each personal arc is raised as a consequence of Jack’s big break which really paints that success as a double-edged sword. This movie can apply to anyone because it revolves around friendship as much as the industry, but it is particularly relevant to artists, as I’ve discussed before. And the world of artistic disciplines is fiercely competitive -something this movie doesn’t shy away from. Essentially it’s a film about the people who don’t make it big. It’s hard to get the job you aspire to, no matter how ambitious you are. The awkwardness in the gang when Jack breaks the news to them is very honest. We also see the fun the Commune players have contrasted against the arguably soulless enterprise of making comedy for a living. We see that even though they’re all hoping to get on Weekend Live, a show Miles has auditioned for a number of times already, they don’t even like it much. But it’s their only option. Which is quite a depressing commentary on the state of variety-sketch television.
And on top of all this the movie shines a spotlight on improv. The improv scenes despite sometimes being scripted, feel realistically ad libbed. The way they’re shot is great too: the camera is up on stage with the cast and moving with the direction of their improv, effectively making the audience a participant. The film also emphasizes the principals of improv and how they apply to everyday life. The fundamentals of improv: working with the group, accepting new ideas, and going with what comes naturally, are outlined at the start, and they’re good principles to live by, as many a real improviser will tell you. Moreover, the movie portrays improv as an art form all its own rather than just a jumping off point for other things, and even gives an improv performer like me new insight.
Don’t Think Twice is an amazing comedy-drama dealing with subject matter I’ve never seen before on film. Not only the improv, but the very specific struggle on display that many people, especially artistic people really relate to. The cast is the best ensemble of 2016 and I wanted more of them. The dialogue is so natural,the improv so realistic, and the story well-plotted, I think it’s one of the best written films of last year; and in all this it’s a huge shame this movie has no awards consideration. This is a movie with a lot of heart and passion and I hope more wind up seeing it. Films like Don’t Think Twice are rare, and rarely get the attention they deserve. When they do come along, we should treasure them.