Don’t Think Twice

There’s a great line from this film, attributed to Del Close of comedy fame: “Great improv is like watching people put the plane together when they’re already in the sky.” Don’t Think Twice, the second film from writer/director/stand-up coming Mike Birbiglia feels so effortlessly put together, you find yourself wondering if perhaps it was all made up on the spot.

Don’t Think Twice isn’t about failure. It’s about not succeeding, and there’s an incredible difference. The Commune is a weekly improv group that performs in an old run down theater. They’re pretty good at making people laugh, but that’s the only thing they’re good at since none of them have any worthwhile jobs. But for one night a week they get to be stars, together. Improvisation is group work, it doesn’t go well if someone takes the spotlight.

But when producers from Weekend Live (Saturday Night Live knockoff) show up to scout talent, Jack (Keegan Michael-Key) tries to make it a solo show. The others are rightfully miffed, especially Miles (Mike Birbiglia). But it pays off big for Jack when he is granted an interview. Another member of the group, Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) also gets a shot.

Immediately, many in the group become jealous, especially Miles. Those who work hard together, don’t always get to stay together.

What makes Don’t Think Twice one of the best movies of the year is how real it feels. I’ve been in an improv group. It is the most amazing experience. Everyone’s got your back, and you get to go up and make art week after week. The film does a great job of showing that original camaraderie, and the shallow insecurities that rise up when the dynamic shifts. Because if there is one truth in life, it’s that most funny people are a sadder than you’d think.

Jack gets the show. Samantha has a panic attack and doesn’t go to her audition. The rest of the group tries to be happy for Jack, but at the same time they are all trying to use his new fame to propel themselves forward. Begging him to submit their writing so that they too, might move on to the next step. The only one who doesn’t seem to want to capitalize on this opportunity is Samantha. “Improv ends, and you have to move forward,” says Jack at one point. “What if I like where I am?” asks Samantha.

Don’t Think Twice is about failed dreams. The players who Yes, And-ed their way to the top. And the players left behind who Yes, But what about me? on the bottom. And that rare group, the one that is okay with staying behind. Because you aren’t a failure if you’re happy just where you are.

Incredibly funny, incredibly poignant in an age where everyone is trying to be a star in the many mediums they can find fame, Don’t Think Twice is a must see for any fan of comedy and improv. The improv scenes are so well done, I’m furious I’ve never done anything that funny in my life. The acting is top notch and nothing feels wasted, except maybe Kate Micucci’s character.

It all builds up to the notion that Don’t Think Twice isn’t just an instruction, it’s a warning. When the bit ends, what do you do next?

3 1/2 out of 4 stars.

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