If you’ve been skipping this year’s indie offerings at the cinema, then you’ve missed a lot this year. But as 2016 draws to a close, there’s one indie comedy you just can’t miss: Don’t Think Twice. This is the second feature film from comedian/writer/director Mike Birbiglia. His first movie, Sleepwalk With Me, was a semiautobiographical film about his early forays into stand-up comedy. Don’t Think Twice, however, is all about improv.
Set in contemporary New York, the film stars Birbiglia as Miles — the head of an improv comedy troupe called The Commune. When the theater they’ve always called home decides to close, the troupe finds themselves confronted with a sobering reality. The improv scene is dying, and The Commune may be going with it. The film co-stars Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Chris Gethard, and Tami Sagher (all outstanding) as the troupe’s other members.
Don’t Think Twice owes much of its success to its ensemble cast. In the film’s opening scene, three basic rules of improv appear on screen. They’re more than just exposition — they’re a mission statement. The second rule states “it’s all about the group.” Appropriately, group dynamics is where the film truly excels. Spending time with The Commune really feels like spending time with professionally funny people. Birbiglia puts in a lot of work to establish motivations for each member of the troupe. Most of them aspire to write or perform on “Weekend Live”, the movie’s ersatz version of Saturday Night Live.
When two members of The Commune receive invitations to audition for Weekend Live, hidden agendas and simmering resentment come to light. It gets ugly, but Birbiglia finds comedy in crisis. Don’t Think Twice manages to be funnier and cut deeper than Birbiglia’s first film. It’s a bittersweet movie that rings especially true if you’ve ever performed with a group. But even if you’re not familiar with improv, Don’t Think Twice makes sure you understand how it works and why it’s so important to its characters. Performing is therapy for them. It lets them ball their tragedies up and throw them out as punchlines.
One also gets the sense that this was a therapeutic film for Birbiglia. Since Sleepwalk With Me, his direction has improved a great deal. He was already a master storyteller before he made his first film, but now he’s got serious filmmaking chops. This time around, the direction and editing are tighter while the performances stay loose and natural. He accommodates for frequent improvisation and riffing. But just like in good improv, Birbiglia knows when to end a scene. And with keen direction, smart writing, and one of the year’s greatest ensemble casts, Birbiglia has made an unmissable indie comedy.
Don’t Think Twice is now available for purchase on VOD outlets in the US. You can find the Blu-ray or DVD on shelves December 6.