“The thing about an easy sell is that it has to be easy to sell.”
I haven’t come across a comedy in 2016 that’s been better than Don’t Think Twice, for reasons both fairly obvious and faintly discernible. For starters, the film is flat-out hilarious, packed full of running gags and laughs and the kinds of inside joke chuckles you get from being in the know. But it’s also a poignant drama, rendering a realistic worldview where some people – despite their most ardent efforts – are simply incapable of achieving their dreams. Sometimes doing what you love pays only in IOU’s and not dollar signs. Still you push forward, because the pursuit of love is righteous, and doing the thing you are best at couldn’t possibly be more right. Miraculously, Don’t Think Twice accomplishes the exact opposite of its title’s declaration, and because of that we’re left better off than we previously once were.
In New York City, the comedy troupe known as “The Commune” plays safe haven to the creative type, forming a family of outsiders joined together for the cause of comedy. That is until the drama kicks in and their club is about to be closed. Miles (Mike Birbiglia) is their leader, an improv teacher who never made it big, still slumming around and sleeping with his students at 36. Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) wants the limelight, specifically that of SNL carbon copy Weekend Live. He dates Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), the most talented of the bunch and the most averse to fame. Lindsay (Tami Sagher) lives off government checks despite her wealthy background. Allison (Kate Micucci) is awkward and timid while her friendly counterpart Bill (Chris Gethard) is a man who recognizes his own failure. Don’t Think Twice sports as balanced a group of characters as a film of this nature could aspire to have.
Although Lindsay, Allison and Bill play the most ancillary parts – the trio almost always remains in the plot’s background – the expert script knows how to share the spotlight so as to make them memorable in their own right. Every momentous moment is shared and communally relatable, each character unique and tragically flawed in his or her own way. Birbiglia serves as the writer/director here, and after his delightfully different and personal freshman film Sleepwalk With Me, continues to solidify his place among the independent community’s most promising new talents. He’s said that Annie Hall is his favorite film, and while his previous outing was more singularly focused, Birbiglia’s latest is by far the better of the two because of its unwitting sense of deep-seeded understanding that’s been borrowed from Woody Allen’s magnum opus. Don’t Think Twice beds us with the comfort of a cozy grade school sleepover while simultaneously branding us with the aching loneliness of disillusionment that’s so often rooted in the process of growing up.
With Don’t Think Twice, Birbiglia does just about everything right. He willingly plays second fiddle, directs the stage work fluidly, and delivers a comedy where the audience is allowed to laugh with the characters instead of at them. You’d think more in the genre would understand the importance of that last trait. The filmmaker has a cast that really cares for one another – on set and off – and their chemistry is felt in every scene. Keegan-Michael Key does fine dramatic work as the film’s most pivotal persona, but the highest marks go to Gillian Jacobs in the kind of performance that will mistakenly be glossed over come awards season. If this is Birbiglia’s calling card as a writer/director, then the same is true for Jacobs in a touchstone role. She’s hysterical, embattled, complex. Her work is astounding. As is the film, a fairly basic story that recognizes the discord of success and the solidarity of failure. What’s most funny is that the movie’s message seems to say that not every beaming talent gets to or even wants to be in the spotlight. That some people would rather light the sky as a distant star than take center stage as the sun. It’s ironic because Don’t Think Twice shines so damn bright.
“In improv, there are no mistakes.”
Rating: 4.5 out of 5