Mike Birbiglia directs, writes, and stars in the “Don’t Think Twice,” a film about a New York City Improv Comedy Group called “The Commune.” This is Birbiglia’s second film, after “Sleepwalk with Me”. Birbiglia is joined by the likes of Keegan-Michael Key (“Key and Peele” and “Keanu”), Gillian Jacobs (“Community”), Kate Micucci (“Garfunkel and Oates”), Chris Gethard, and Tami Sagher.
After two members of “The Commune,” Jack (Key) and Samantha (Jacobs), are offered roles on the popular variety show “Weekend Live,” the desire and realities of success in the entertainment industry eats away at each member of the group.
This movie is hilarious. Side splittingly funny. Granted, this is a movie about an improv comedy group, so humor is to be expected. Expect to be offended, however, as the laughs cover touchy ground in the film. Death is often made fun of throughout the film. The film manages to find humor in this subject in such a touching and sweet way, though, that it might make even the most uptight person crack a smile.
While the film is funny, it isn’t the film isn’t without an emotional core. Both Miles (Birbiglia) and Bill (Gethard) are at the center of this core. Miles is that type of character that’s determined to a fault. He’s been in the game for quite a while, more than anyone else in the group. Along with performing, he teaches improv on the side. Many of his students go onto become future stars while he struggles to afford a studio apartment. Almost every one of his decisions will make the audience want to tear their hair out in frustration, which Birbiglia plays beautifully.
Bill, however, is where the film really plucks at the heartstrings. Instead of taking a real estate job his father offers him time and time again, he instead opts to sell food samples at a local grocery store to make by in between shows. He’s the typical sad guy, sort of the Eeyore of the group, but Gethard sells it so well that it doesn’t feel formulaic in the slightest.
Both Keegan-Michael Key and Gillian Jacobs give surprising performances. It’s unexpected to such complex performances from actors known for “Key and Peele” and “Community,” respectively. Jack and Samantha, their respective characters, are the couple of the group, and it’s easy to see why. They’re both the kind of people that can never not be funny, most likely because it’s a defense mechanism to their own insecurities. They can’t take things seriously, and both Key and Jacobs play this with a lot of dimension.
Kate Micucci and Tami Sagher, however, are the least strong of the ensemble. This is relative, as both of these actors give great performances, but their characters, Allison (Micucci) and Lindsay (Sagher), aren’t given nearly as much attention as the other four. Allison is an aspiring graphic novelist, while Lindsay is a privileged, pot-smoking kid that still lives with her parents in her late 20s. These characters are given dimensions, and they do help to represent different aspects of the entertainment industry, but again, they aren’t given as much screen time as the others.
The film falls victim to feeling very “indie.” It has the typical dimly lit scenes, resulting in a sort of yellowish look to the lighting. There’s a scene of a shirtless man looking at himself in a spit-stained mirror while he contemplates to himself. Almost every trope of an independent film can be found here. The film is not confusing, every shot is in well framed and in focus. From a visual standpoint, the film is competent, but that’s it. Birbiglia doesn’t take any visual risks.
To be fair, Birbiglia does make an interesting visual choice during the on stage scenes. Like “Birdman” (2014), the camera does a one take shot, for the most part, as it sweeps around the stage, focusing on either the performers or the audience. It helps to capture the fear of being on stage, as it zooms up close to the actor’s faces, but then turns to show a distant and darkly lit sea of faces. Even with this, the film is still devoid of great shots.
Despite some faults, “Don’t Think Twice” is a great movie. The humor and writing is sharp as a needle, which is complimented by complex and hilarious performances from its lead actors, even if some of them are given the same attention as the rest. While it may look like every other film of its type, deep down it has a touching, but also bleak perspective on the desire for fame and success.
“Don’t Think Twice” has been out for a few weeks now, which means its theatrical run is most likely coming to its close.The only local theatre it’s playing in at the moment is the Landmark Keystone Art Theatre at the Fashion Mall at Keystone, which may be a little far for IUPUI students, but the film is definitely worth the drive.