In Don’t Think Twice, comedian Mike Birbiglia once again taps into his sense for tragi-comedy to exorcise his demons by putting his personal struggles on the big screen. His previous movie, Sleep Walk With Me (Relationships and dreams collide in ‘Sleepwalk With Me’ — a film review) was a very personal re-telling of the end of a relationship gone awry. Now he turns to his career. Birbiglia wrote, directed, and co-stars in this new film that explores how individuals find a sense of belonging and how traditional markers of success, such as money and popularity, actually become obstacles that deter people from finding their own way.
The film tells the story of a group of friends who have started an improv comedy troupe, The Commune, in New York City. They are struggling comedians with few prospects of success, but they have each other and the energy they feed off while on stage. At the start of their performances one of the members of The Commune asks their audience, “Has anybody had a particularly bad day?” Their jump-off point is a telling and insightful springboard of inspiration. They make light of the misery of their audience, as they all commune in this shared experience that is a comedy show.
On weekends, the group get together to watch “Weekend Live,” a clear stand-in for “Saturday Night Live.” It is their collective and individual dream, to write — or even better — be a part of the cast of “Weekend Live.” As luck would have it, a talent scout appears at one of their shows and two of the members of the six-man improv group are invited to audition for the TV show. Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) and Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) are elated by the news of this opportunity. At the same time, Bill (Chris Gethard) also receives news that his father has just been hospitalized. It is in the context of Bill’s most terrible personal news that Jack and Samantha share the news of their upcoming possible big break.
The film plays around with extremes, as something tragic develops there is also a redemptive experience, but then that redemption soon enough breaks down into personal tragedy. The focus here, as with improv, is in the group dynamics and how the relationships can quickly change thanks to jealousy, pettiness, support and even pure selfishness of trying to find a way in life as an individual. The genius of Don’t Think Twice is to create specific characters that are so well-developed they end up being relatable. It is a universal tale of struggle, failure and the pitfalls of success.
Birbiglia plays Miles, he is somewhat the most senior and leader of the troupe. An improv instructor on the side, Miles has high hopes for himself and is astonished that those whom he helped prepare as comedians are now seeing more success than he is. The ups and downs of life hit every character and it is how they bounce back and are able to redefine success in their own terms that makes this film so warm.
While the filmmaking is straightforward, personally, what I enjoyed most about this film is seeing an assembly of my favorite comedians doing what they do best: being self-reflective to the point of exhaustion and finding laughs in the inevitable everyday struggles. Don’t Think Twice lacks the cynicism that many may turn to when life does not turn out the way their hopes dictated, but life can still go on.
Don’t Think Twice runs 92 minutes and is rated R. The indie theater in our South Florida area playing it is O Cinema Miami Beach. For locations showing it in other parts of the U.S., visit the film’s official webpage and click on “get tickets.” All images and a screener link was provided by the Film Arcade for the purposes of this review.
(Copyright 2016 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)