As an obsessive comedy fan, but one who is tragically untalented in the art, I have always been fascinated and amazed by improv. Don’t Think Twice is centered around a New York improv troupe housed at a soon-to-be-defunct theatre. Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele), Gillian Jacobs (Community, Love), Kate Micucci (Garfunkel and Oates), Chris Gethard (Broad City), and Tami Sagher, all great comedians in their own rite, play the members of the troupe called The Commune (Miles, Jack, Sam, Allison, Bill, and Lindsay, respectively). Already struggling due to the impending loss of their performance spot, the troupe becomes even more unstable when Jack earns a spot on Weekend Live, a fictional Saturday Night Live knockoff (with a fantastic Don Pardo impersonator, by the way). Jack’s commercial success shakes the troupe to its core, affecting each member in a different but markedly connected way.
I think I could sit in a room and just observe the cast of Don’t Think Twice and be entertained, so seeing them on screen in an impeccably written and directed film was quite the treat. All of the actors in the film, known almost exclusively for their comedic roles, gave subtle but incredibly moving dramatic performances. As an ensemble they worked in such tandem that one would think, well, that they were an improv troupe. I cared so much about each character -- feeling for them, worrying about them -- even after only knowing them for an hour and a half. Each person in the film was characterized so well in such a short span of time, which speaks volumes about Birbiglia’s writing talents. Along with delivering excellent dramatic moments, the cast obviously killed the comedic scenes. I’m not sure how much of it was actually improvised and how much Birbiglia penned himself, but all of the comedy had an aire of Birbiglia’s usual bleak honesty which I have come to adore. Among the powerhouse ensemble, Gillian Jacobs’ performance stood out to me as one of the strongest. She is absolutely lovely and is able to be hilarious while still remaining sincere.
As with most of Birbiglia’s work, Don’t Think Twice is immensely thoughtful and raises some difficult questions: When holding onto dreams, how long is too long? When should you give up? What is success, really? What defines you as a failure? Though these questions were applied to floundering comedians, each and every one of them can pertain to anyone. You could despise improv (not sure why you would) and still relate to the struggle they face. Grappling with success versus failure, expectations versus reality, is something that people from every walk of life can experience on a daily basis.
I have never met Mike Birbiglia, and probably never will, but I am so proud of him. I am proud to share a home state with such a gifted writer and comedian. If you really want to feel something, please go see Don’t Think Twice. I cried as much as I laughed, which was quite a lot. Plus, I want Birbiglia to make another film, so let’s get him some good opening weekend box office numbers.