For something utilized within the industry as much as it is, there really haven’t been a lot of movies about improv comedy. Maybe that says something about the long-term success of those who feel passionately about the art form, but this cinematic gap still makes Don’t Think Twice a unique picture.
It also marks a slight detour for writer/director/actor Mike Birbiglia. The comedian, who adapted his stand-up comedy show Sleepwalk with Me Live into his debut feature film, Sleepwalk with Me (2012), notoriously does not shy away from his personal tragedies. Coincidentally becoming a sleeper hit, the movie details Birbiglia’s personal struggles with love, comedy and sleepwalking. What makes Don’t Think Twice noteworthy for Birbiglia is that it is not based off of his own personal experiences. Although Birbiglia dabbled in improv during his comedy years, this six-character meditation on fame, drive and passion is a bit more complex. Taking place over the course of an improv comedy troupe’s last month of existence (due to their resident theatre closing down), each member of the group is forced to think about their next steps.
What’s also interesting about this change of pace for Birbiglia is the presence of a whole new set of dynamics. Sleepwalk with Me was a story about a stand-up comedian, so its perspective was largely singular. However, because of the emphasis of group over individual in improv comedy, Don’t Think Twice ends up jumping from one place to the next.
This also allows the film to feed off of the energy of its co-stars. Playing Miles, the founder of the group, Birbiglia brings in a top-notch team of improvisers, including Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci and Tami Sagher. The crux of the story involves the fact that ‘Weekend Live’ (an obvious analogue of Saturday Night Live) is hiring, and only one of the team members gets cast. It’s a startling reminder that despite the hard work many people put in, only a few are destined for the spotlight.
This proves to be a perfect vehicle to get all six members of the troupe to examine their lives and relationships. What makes this movie so good is that it gives each of its main characters their own story arc. Some of them are more developed than others, but each character has their own reason for being on screen. This allows the film to examine numerous viewpoints while also building momentum.
However, even though it is a movie about comedy, Don’t Think Twice is not all laughs. There is a genuine heart behind everything that takes place, and the result is a film that will turn giggles into tears. The movie is a story about success, but it’s also a story about failure. It’s a story about unity and loyalty, but also about division. Most importantly, it’s a story about humans. Considering that the group members are constantly devising outrageous characters for the stage, it’s kind of funny that the ones that appear on screen are incredibly real.
There’s a lot that could be said about the strengths of the script’s structure, or its brilliant use of silence or the clever camera positioning, but what Don’t Think Twice ultimately lives or dies by is the chemistry of its cast. This movie would have been a mess had each of the actors been constantly competing for the movie’s spotlight, but there is an obvious level of trust and commitment felt within the cast that provides a sturdy foundation for the rest of the film.
If nothing else, Don’t Think Twice is a fantastic representation of improv on screen. It’s a bit of a love story, but also doesn’t shy away from some of its limitations. Even though this is less of a personal story, it’s clear that Birbiglia has put quite a bit of his soul into the film. Although impressive in their own right, both Sleepwalk with Me and Don’t Think Twice predict a bright and bountiful future for Birbiglia. Hopefully he doesn’t overthink his next steps.