Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
DON’T THINK TWICE | 1h 30min | R
Directed by: Mike Birbiglia
Starring: Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Mike Birbiglia, Kate Micucci, Chris Gethard, Tami Sagher
Improv comedy has gone through many ebbs and flows for decades, but the rules have always remained the same: always say yes, support the group and don’t think. Writer-director Mike Birbiglia’s DON’T THINK TWICE examines what happens to one improvisational comedy troupe as they break these rules in their off-stage life. While it’s equal parts funny, poignant and trenchant, the film mostly acts as a pulpit for Birbiglia to vent his frustrations pointedly at the person who eclipsed his career (which last I checked, is doing just fine).
“The Commune” is an improv team based out of a tiny theater in New York City. Sam (Gillian Jacobs), her boyfriend Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), founder Miles (Birbiglia), Bill (Chris Gethard), Alison (Kate Micucci) and Lindsay (Tami Sagher) have dedicated themselves to the group’s success for years. Their patter is lightning sharp, quick-witted and effortless. But none of them have quite experienced the same success within their daily lives, as they all are forced to toil away at menial jobs like bike messenger, grocery store sample clerk, hostess, teacher and artist. The gang is dealt a significant blow when they learn their venue will be shuttering in two weeks. So when talent scouts from a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE-esque TV show visit and single out two of the performers, the gang’s dynamic is thrown into chaos.
They say write what you know, and it appears Miles’ toxic jealousy might be deeply rooted in Birbiglia’s reality. The dramedy addresses a topic lots of movies have done before it: failure. However, the way it’s handled here hits in superbly subtle ways. The theme is explored through the microcosm of this specific industry, but the resonance is universal. It also ends on a delightfully hopeful uptick as consolation for the existential crisis it may put audiences through, pondering the questions it posits.
Performances from the ensemble make this worth watching – specifically from Jacobs and Key. Jacobs is vulnerable and courageous. Key is a magnetic presence, but his ability to step back, playing as part of the ensemble is unparalleled. That’s tough to do. Both do such insightful, intelligent and introspective work with their roles, adapting to their characters’ evolving relationship status.
This isn’t to say the movie is for everyone. If you abhor the obnoxious smarminess of the improv scene and its players, you’ll probably still find this film insufferable. I can recommend BOJACK HORSEMAN’s “Yes, And” episode to better suit your needs. You might want to yell at the screen for these people to move on before they actually do. Their stage bits aren’t very funny, yet the audience on screen is in fits of laughter – a pet peeve of mine. Why not make that actually funny? Character arcs aren’t nearly as balanced as I would have liked. Bill is fleshed out, but Allison and Lindsay are dealt short shrift in favor of Miles’ mid-life crisis fueled by anger. That doesn’t seem fair, as all their struggles are worthy of exploration, or they don’t belong in the story in the first place.
Facing life’s hard truths can be difficult. DON’T THINK TWICE helps us to be better equipped to roll with the punches and always say “yes.”
DON’T THINK TWICE played the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 6. It opens on July 22 in New York and July 29 in Los Angeles.