Friday, September 9, 2016

[Review] Don't Think Twice

Brilliant comedian, performer, and filmmaker Mike Birbiglia gave us the deeply personal one-man show turned feature film Sleepwalk With Me in 2012. He follows that up with Don't Think Twice, an improv-themed comedy that will make your belly jiggle and your heart sink.

The story revolves around an improv group called the Commune, comprised of very funny and neurotic souls: Miles (Birbiglia), Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), Allison (Kate Micucci), Lindsay (Tami Sagher), and Bill (Chris Gethard). Things get shaken up when Jack (the group's standout) lands a gig with "Weekend Live" (a stand-in for "Saturday Night Live").

First of all, this film is hilarious. As you'd expect, the script (or non-script) is filled with some killer comedy, whether its within the sketch scenes or the narrative itself. The laughs-per-minute volumes are high, and the humor is biting, fresh, well-seasoned, and inspired. It contains that magical energy that occurs when a bunch of quick-witted people are in the same room together. But there's also pathos mixed in with it all, especially during the story's second half. The troupe should be happy for their comrade's success, right? Well, given the group's own individual aspirations and tight-knit team mentality, it's only natural that tensions, insecurities, self-doubt, and jealousy arise. Birbiglia tackles these conflicts with uncomfortable observations and unflinching insights. It's honest. It's human.

What happens when your collaborator moves onto bigger and better things and you're left in the dust? What happens when your understudy surpasses you and gets what you've been trying to achieve your entire life? What happens when you've faced rejection so many times that you're forced to confront the idea of your passion coming to an end? What happens when you run out of material?

It's quite depressing, really. But the sympathy isn't a one-way street here. I mean, we can't hate on Jack for rising up and accomplishing his dreams. He faces problems of his own, too. There's the spotlight pressures of staying afloat in the cutthroat entertainment industry and not blowing his opportunity on a primetime stage. And though he'd like to share a piece of the pie with the crew he came up with--it's not that easy. "Just focus on not getting fired this first year," the producer tells him.

The cast is terrific across the board, and the ensemble of characters are nicely developed, even considering the film's brief 90-minute runtime. The charismatic Keegan-Michael Key shines as the group's emerging star (the Obama impression is always on-point). Mike Birbigs holds it down with his underlying anxieties and the bitterness of someone whose window for a big break is narrowing while his general direction in life is uncertain, especially as he approaches 40. Gillian Jacobs is great during the sketches and gives a show-stopping monologue during the film's catharsis.

Don't Think Twice is a definitive depiction of the improv world, as well as a touching look at ambition and desperation, success and failure. It's amusing how it shares many of the same themes and truths as this year's uproarious Lonely Island showcase Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. It's also true that these two films happen to be the best comedies of 2016. I'm not joking.

* 9/10 *

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  1. I agree, Don't Think Twice is one of the best movies I've seen in 2016 to date.

  2. I'd love to see this one but it doesn't have an Australian release date yet :( I'm a huge fan of Gillian since Community so I'm going to have to track it down when it inevitably slips onto VOD in a few months. Great review!