In 2012, Mike Birbiglia made his directing debut with Sleepwalk with Me, a semiautobiographical meditation on stand-up comedy. Now, he’s doing the same for improv, chronicling the ups and downs of an eclectic troupe in this bittersweet dramedy about comedy.
Birbiglia stars as Miles, a comedy veteran who teaches improv by day and leads a troupe called the Commune by night. The group’s six members—Miles, Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), Sam (Gillian Jacobs), Bill (Chris Gethard), Allison (Kate Micucci), and Lindsay (Tami Sagher)—are each struggling to get by in their everyday lives, working menial jobs and living in dorm-like apartments, but when they unite on stage, they make magic.
But while all six members are fiercely devoted to the Commune, they each hold a not-so-secret longing to make it big, and soon enough, two of them get that chance. Jack and Sam both score auditions for the late-night comedy show Weekend Live (which is basically another name for the real show that airs live from New York on Saturday nights, down to the celebrity guests and Studio 8H-like setting). Even though the Commune members all gather on Saturday nights to pick apart Weekend Live as unfunny and calculated (and Miles bitterly reflects on his failed audition years ago), they’re all still desperate for their shot, and Jack and Sam’s sudden chance at success—coupled with their longtime theater closing—threatens to end the Commune for good.
Don’t Think Twice is comedic, of course—partly because of its subject and partly because these are extremely funny people doing funny things—but it’s often bleak, too. Success breeds jealousy, and as the Commune start to realize they can’t always rely on their fellow members, they turn inward, wondering whether they really have what it takes to make it. Plenty of movies have been made about the perils of fame, but Birbiglia focuses instead on what it means to be left behind. Still, Don’t Think Twice isn’t all envy and self-doubt; Birbiglia has also crafted a love letter to improv, capturing the tempestuous and unforgiving art form in a way that only an insider could. The result is a bittersweet story that feels a lot like what it’s like to be in an improv troupe: occasionally heartbreaking, but frequently hilarious. B+