Contemplative, deliberately paced small scale dramas seem to be having a moment here in 2016, so while it’s not surprising that Mike Birbiglia’s new feature Don’t Think Twice mostly fell under the radar, it is unfortunate since the film is both a standout in its genre and a clear sign that Birbiglia is truly coming into his own as a filmmaker.
A well-written and performed ensemble film about the struggles of an improv troupe called The Commune, Don’t Think Twice is a brilliant examination of creative growth, disappointment and envy. Though Birbiglia also stars in it as Miles, the founder of the troupe and a teacher at the troupe’s homebase Improv America, there is no real main character in the film, other than perhaps the craft itself. Equally important to the film are Gillian Jacobs, Keegan-Michael Key, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci and Tami Sagher, who perform in the troupe with Miles and are all questioning where to go now that the theatre they call home is about to be torn down to make room for another Trump building (funny how much more devastating that element is now than it was when the film was first released).
Complicating matters is the news that SNL stand-in Weekend Live is coming to a show to scout for talent, prompting the troupe members to become more competitive and hostile towards each other. When one of the members not only lands an audition but gets cast on the show, The Commune starts to really disintegrate and the bulk of the film details the various ways they deal with this. Don’t Think Twice is a true ensemble work and so each troupe member’s desires and struggles are given equal screen time, making for an impressively intimate look inside the closed off world of comedy. Birbiglia’s script has funny moments, but Don’t Think Twice is more accurately described as a drama about the creative life and quite possibly the most accurate and honest peek behind the comedy curtain that I’ve ever seen. Birbiglia is expertly aided in this by cinematographer Joe Anderson, who does wonderful work framing the intensity and energy of improv but also boldly keeps the camera in extreme close-up throughout the film in order to showcase the emotions and passions of each actor.
Some audiences might be disappointed by the ratio of drama to comedy in Don’t Think Twice but viewers who give the film a chance will be rewarded by its raw power and exceptional humanity. When the film was on the festival circuit at the start of this year, there were less comparable works, but here at the tail end of 2016, Don’t Think Twice fits in perfectly with cable shows like Atlanta and Insecure, both of which use their characters’ creative pursuits to frame the narrative in a much subtler and effective way than the likes of Entourage. Granted, the film does share a considerable amount of DNA with Judd Apatow’s productions, particularly in Birbiglia’s character, who functions as the resident manchild, complete with a late game transformation into a more mature patriarchal figure.
Still, the end result is a great film that also makes the case for Birbiglia as a spiritual successor to Albert Brooks and perhaps even a less problematic heir to classic era Woody Allen, and it’s worth pointing out that Birbiglia is already a much more ambitious and artful director than Apatow has ever been. Don’t Think Twice might be overlooked on year end lists and at awards shows, but this lovable, endearing film is more than worth seeking out now.
Morgan Davis sells bootleg queso on the streets of Austin in order to fund Loser City. When he isn’t doing that, he gets complimented and/or threatened by Austin’s musical community for stuff he writes at Ovrld, which he is the Managing Editor of.