Movie Review: “Don’t Think Twice”

Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Mike Birbiglia, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher
Mike Birbiglia

Writer/director Mike Birbiglia’s first two movies have drawn comparisons to early Woody Allen, and for the most part, they’re well founded. The comedian turned filmmaker excels at telling human stories that combine humor and pathos with an unfiltered authenticity you don’t normally see in mainstream comedies. His 2012 debut “Sleepwalk with Me” is a witty, sharply written film about professional rejection and the fear of commitment, and although Birbiglia doesn’t quite hit the same highs with his follow-up “Don’t Think Twice,” it’s arguably a more mature piece of filmmaking that expands on some of the same themes while cutting even deeper emotionally.

The movie centers on a New York City improv troupe called The Commune whose members – including co-founder Miles (Birbiglia), Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), Bill (Chris Gethard), Allison (Kate Micucci) and Lindsay (Tami Sagher) – learn that the building where they perform their weekly shows is being shut down. Further complicating matters is the announcement that romantic couple Jack and Samantha have both been invited to audition for the popular TV sketch show “Weekend Live” (basically “Saturday Night Live” in all but name), which unearths a deep-seated jealously and resentment among the rest of the group. When one of them lands the coveted job, the other members must cope with the sting of rejection as their tight-knit community begins to unravel.

Whereas “Sleepwalk with Me” was a mostly one-man show (especially in its original form on the stage) that drew from Birbiglia’s experiences as a stand-up comic, “Don’t Think Twice” finds him reaching even further back into his career to produce this brutally honest look at chasing your dreams and learning to accept the failure that comes with it. Though not as transparently autobiographical as his previous film, there’s a lot of truthfulness in Birbiglia’s script that, despite feeling a little insidery at times, has many layers to it beyond functioning as a love letter to improv comedy. In fact, the live theater bits are some of the weakest moments in the movie, failing to earn the kind of laughs needed in order to sell the idea that these characters are actually good enough to make it in showbiz.

Fortunately, the ensemble cast has such great chemistry that they’re a joy to watch even when the movie delves into darker territory. Some get more to do than others (Micucci and Sagher’s characters, for instance, are woefully underdeveloped), but it’s still very much a group effort. With that said, Jacobs and Key are the clear standouts, delivering wonderfully naturalistic performances as the two most talented members of the troupe, while Gethard also impresses with his droll, affecting turn as the resident sad sack. Though none of the actors deliver Birbiglia’s dialogue better than himself, his decision to take on more of a supporting role exhibits remarkable discipline and understanding from a filmmaker who’s more interested in making the best possible movie than being in the spotlight. His debut is still the better film, but “Don’t Think Twice” continues Birbiglia’s impressive form with a funny and poignant alternative from the typical studio comedy.