At times, the honesty depicted by Don’t Think Twice can be hard to digest. It’s a film about some of the hardest parts of growing up; of getting jealous of success, having to move past your dreams, and maybe even giving up your friends. It’s a drama about comedy, but thankfully, doesn’t dip into indulgent maudlin tragedy about comedy territory.
When we’re first introduced to The Commune, a struggling New York based improv troupe, the six of them all appear to be “that guy” at a party, the one who is always on, who reflexively turns everything into a bad joke, literally the first one that comes to mind. We actually find out these reflexive jokes are one of the backbones of improv, thus the title, Don’t Think Twice; and that when these people do stop to think about their lives, things aren’t as easy as they are on stage.
When the showboat of the group, Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) lands a coveted spot on “Weekend Live” – the film’s pastiche of Saturday Night Live – the rest of the troupe have to contend with his new-found fame and its effect on their own chances at the big time and self-worth. In addition, low attendance is slowly pushing The Commune out of their theater altogether.
Troupe leader Miles (Writer/Director Mike Birbiglia), reaching middle age, has been running The Commune for a third of his life and hasn’t seen the success many of his students have. Allison (Kate Micucci) was a once promising graphic novelist that still hasn’t finished her first story. Also dealing with the approaching death of his father, Bill (Chris Gethard) realizes that he’s nothing without improv. Lindsay (Tami Sagher) is dealing with her friends’ increasing resentment of her parents’ wealth. And Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), the dramatic heart of the story, and also Jack’s girlfriend, watches the only real family she’s ever known fall apart and is hesitant to move on.
The movie focuses mainly on Jack, Miles, and Sam; but every actor brings a deep verisimilitude to their characters, and, working in a group, they each get a chance to shine. Even outside of the actual improv scenes, the entire film feels completely organic, almost like an actual documentary about the end of an improv group. Strangely enough, it’s the improv scenes that feel the most cinematic, as the camera weaves around the performers, giving us angles of the show that an audience would normally never see. And that closeness translates naturally to the rest of the film, with the camera bringing us closer into the personal lives of these characters as they go through this very confusing period in their lives in their separate ways. And outside of the characters, Don’t Think Twice nails its setting with what might be the most true-to-life depiction of the New York theater scene ever in fiction. I feel like I’ve been to The Commune performances at real life improv theaters like the midtown People’s Improv Theater.
Like all good comedians, the characters in Don’t Think Twice don’t miss the opportunity to turn their personal hardships into comedy – a concept perfectly nutshelled in the actual film with how The Commune starts all of their performances; and the film also doesn’t let anything get in the way of it getting laughs. Don’t Think Twice will have you laughing consistently through its run-time; and because of this movie’s style, every laugh feels like a laugh between friends – the sort of chuckles you do in the middle of a conversation instead of in response to a punchline. It’s a very different flavor of comedy than many other films provide, something a little warmer. There are also a good handful of jokes that feel more local; a small one involving Law and Order auditions killed at the screening I saw.
Don’t Think Twice seems to aim for a very specific audience – people who recognize Mike Birbiglia from This American Life (the film is produced by Ira Glass) – but manages to reach far outside of it by bringing the audience extremely close to its cast of very funny people.