Mike Birbiglia has arrived. Coming off a successful response to his debut feature (Sleepwalk With Me), the comedian turned filmmaker—who still finds time to embark on stand-up tours—has delivered a truly special film with Don’t Think Twice, a dramedy about the price of chasing dreams and letting success come between relationships. It’s a movie born from the world of improv that features actual improvisation and manages to be really, truly funny without succumbing to the temptation of allowing fun to outweigh the reality of those who dare to hope for something few ever achieve. If I could have watched it again the moment my Tuesday morning screening let out I would have called in sick to my day job and skipped lunch to ensure I didn’t miss a single frame.
Don’t Think Twice follows the lives of the members of an improv group whose theater is about to go under. The need to find a new venue stirs emotions regarding the sacrifices each member has made and the progress, or lack thereof, they have made towards becoming a professional in the world of comedy. One might think such internal struggles would be reflected in the group’s stage presence, but that is not true in this case. The stage is the one place where hopes and dreams are undeniably alive, and as such it is a sacred place where the problems of the outside world are not allowed entrance. Ignoring such rules, as one character ultimately does, can only cause tension among the group, and from there things can go from manageable to terrible in no time at all.
Bringing Birbiglia’s improv group to life is a smorgasbord of typically under-appreciated talent who each breathe unique life into their roles. Keegan-Michael Key and Gillian Jacobs are the group’s only couple, and it’s their individual feelings towards growth and change that initially help propel the story forward. While the others are hoping for callbacks, but Key and Jacobs’ characters are offered an audition with the film’s version of Saturday Night Live. One gets the gig, the other doesn’t, and the rest—played by Kate Micucci, Chris Gethard, and Tami Sagher—are left to question what they may have done differently.
The beauty of Don’t Think Twice lies in its script, which offers each character a unique arc that helps further substantiate the core story of growing older and taking accountability for one’s own destiny. Birbiglia never once sugar coats the pains of change or how the realization that some dreams will never be more than imagined end points can crush someone’s soul, but he also doesn’t revel in it. Like life, Don’t Think Twice is a series of high highs and low lows that challenge characters and the audience as often as they offer momentary relief. This approach to storytelling grounds the narrative in a palpable sense of reality, which is further emphasized by strong performances from everyone involved in the production.
It has been said that Birbiglia’s work in film brings to mind that of a young Woody Allen, and having seen Don’t Think Twice I believe that to be true. Birbiglia has a grasp on what it’s like to live in the world of today that mirrors Woody’s understanding of New York in the 1970s. What separates Birbiglia is his take on comedy and how he chooses to weave elements of humor through even the most heartbreaking moments. Don’t Think Twice is a masterclass in learning to accept your inability to control fate, and I wholeheartedly believe we will be discussing the intricacies of its writing for many years to come.