Don't Think Twice
2016, R, 92 min. Directed by Mike Birbiglia. Starring Mike Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, Richard Masur, Maggie Kemper, Seth Barrish, Adam Pally.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 5, 2016
As in his 2012 indie film breakout, Sleepwalk With Me, writer/director Mike Birbiglia mines what he knows: stand-up comedy. The characters and settings of both films are based on the unknown, workaday comics who hone their craft in the dark, half-empty comedy clubs that dot every major American city. For a precious few hours every week, the thrill of the stage is theirs, while the rest of their days are spent laboring at the kind of dull, soul-sucking, service-industry jobs that support the continuance of their comedy habit. Although a Three Musketeers-like “all for one, and one for all” attitude is evident in the members of the comedy troupes, Birbiglia also has a keen sense of the roiling resentments and sublimated jealousies that infect the individuals. Young, creative sorts may more susceptible to these insidious and self-deprecating emotions, but Birbiglia’s acute perspective will pertain to almost any industry in which a few are chosen to advance and the vast majority are left to wonder, “Why not me?”
The six members of the Commune improvisational troupe all have one another’s backs. It’s one of the tenets of the improv form they love so dearly (along with “say yes” and “don’t think”). The Manhattan group is one of the training grounds from which Weekend Live (a fictional version of Saturday Night Live) is known to pluck new cast members. On a night when talent scouts are known to be in the audience, Jack (Key) can’t resist showboating with his impeccable Obama imitation, and later he and his girlfriend Sam (Jacobs), the group’s resident couple, receive an invitation to audition for the national show. The group tellingly hesitates a moment too long before congratulating the pair on the invite, and when Sam makes the cut, the stage is set for the slings and arrows of the unjustly overlooked, as well as the conflicts experienced by the more measurably successful Jack in trying to stay true to his roots and remain friends with his old group. Add to the group’s woes that they’re being evicted from their longtime performance space to make way for a new Trump edifice (how timely is that?).
Cameos from Ben Stiller and Lena Dunham, appearing as themselves, lend additional credence to the comedy milieu that the film inhabits. Birbiglia plays a character named Miles who taught improv technique to Jack and now, at the advanced age of 36, is smarting from his own lack of advancement. Sam, on the other hand, doesn’t wish to move up the professional ladder, although something about her protestation rings hollow. Bill (Gethard) purports to be happy with his level of success, but would like, just once, to not be regarded as a failure by his father. The other two women in the group, Allison (Micucci) and Lindsay (Sagher), pursue writing endeavors that are separate from the group’s stage efforts. Although his visual style is relatively flat and expository, filmmaker Birbiglia’s penetrating observational skills make Don’t Think Twice an exceptional film about both the comedy world and the plight of young professionals who wonder if they’ve stalled out before even getting into gear. Like the chimera evoked by the Bob Dylan song from which the film takes its name: “It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why.”