Synopsis: When a member of a popular New York City improv troupe gets a huge break, the rest of the group – all best friends – start to realize that not everyone is going to make it after all. (Source)
The opening moments of Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice outline three golden rules for improv: say yes, it’s all about the group and don’t think. These three ideas, as much as they relate to the technique and function of how the film’s central comedy troupe operate, also turn out to be our guide to understanding the film’s examination of life itself. Beginning over a decade after most coming-of-age films end, Birbiglia’s film is a bittersweet reexamination of chasing the dream, taking stock with a group of life-long friends who’ve been with each other through thick and thin, but suddenly find each other at a crossroads. Painfully funny, intelligently crafted and with a realism that feels earned, Birbiglia’s latest is a gift to comedy fans, but has a depth that anyone will be able to appreciate and relate to.
The story focuses on the members of an NYC improv group called The Commune, made up of Miles (Mike Birbiglia), Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), Bill (Chris Gethard) Allison (Kate Micucci) and Lindsay (Tami Sagher). Right from the start, their chemistry and loyalty to one another is apparent – they know each other better than anyone, and their routine is built around a seemingly unbreakable bond. They also share a similar aspiration – an idealized version of fame, stemming from a coveted spot on the holy grail of live sketch tv shows, Weekend Live (a fictional stand in for Saturday Night Live). Still, the group is happy enough with their success as a team, even if they all individually hate their day jobs, struggling to make ends meet with the exception of Lindsay, who comes from a wealthy family. Just as word comes that the building they perform in has been sold off, scouts from Weekend Live attend one of the Commune’s performances, and Sam and Jack are called in for auditions. This sudden turn of events immediately tests the group’s allegiances, forcing them to reevaluate their careers and the unpredictable path life has given them.
Dense and brimming with emotional depth, Birbiglia deftly balances heartache and happiness, chronicling painfully stilted, yet lovable characters as they reflect on broken dreams and an uncertain future. Pulling from Birbiglia and the cast’s experience in the comedy scene, the film is anchored by a sense of realism that comes out through the relationships at the film’s core. Because of this verisimilitude, we’re always rooting for these flawed characters as they cope with self-doubt and weigh the cost of their desires against the consequences that will impact the group. Their blinding commitment contrasts with the film’s message of transience, and how nothing is meant to stay the same forever, making for multi-faceted storytelling that is tight and precise, yet always feeling vibrant and spontaneous. More than anything, this allows the film’s emotional journey to really resonate, exploring personal and artistic integrity in relentlessly funny ways, but always as a way to bring out sobering, introspective drama.
Though some characters in the film’s core group get more time than others, there is absolutely no weak link here, with everyone pulling their own weight and bringing a distinct perspective to each scene and unpredictable turn. As the Commune’s founder Miles, Birbiglia’s brand of humor comes out through understated nuance and poignant reflection. He’s a relatable everyman going through the same self-doubts we’ve all had. As Sam, Gillian Jacobs is incredible. Having already shown her chops off as Community’s Britta, she gets a heavier role this time out, embodying a big portion of the film’s heart and acting as its voice of reason. She’s excellent in an ensemble, but she’s incredible carrying a lot of the film’s emotional weight – she needs to be at the forefront more often. Playing Sam’s boyfriend and the character that pivots the entire plot, Jack, Keegan-Michael Key turns his natural charisma into a complicated character, constantly lured by fame and self-interest, but struggling to stay true to his friends. He treads a fine line, navigating some grey lines with a human slant. Chris Gethard’s Bill probably has my favorite arc; dealing with a traumatic experience, he’s the one in the group who is most honest with himself and others, stealing a ton of scenes with wit that’s as painful as it is funny. Kate Miccuci’s Allison and Tami Sagher’s Lindsay aren’t slouches, though they have less to do. Both are still indelible members of the ensemble who add texture and round out the dynamic. All of these characters feel like people you just want to be in the same room with – they’re a ton of fun together, and their electricity is palpable and infectious.
Don’t Think Twice is an incredible reminder of how almost nothing in life is under our control (especially as we grow older), but that life isn’t about perfection – it’s about accepting and embracing what comes next, for better or worse. This is a rare comedy that is rooted in the folly that inspires the laughs, and a keen look at the unshakable friendships that keep us afloat.