Mike Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Chris Gethard, Tami Sagher
Don’t Think Twice is a comedy-drama film written and directed by comedian Mike Birbiglia. It stars Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Chris Gethard, Tami Sagher and Mike Birbiglia as The Commune, an improv comedy troupe trying to make it.
Every night they play a small space in front of a small audience, taking suggestions and acting out scenes in the improv style. Their dream is to get on the cast of Weekend Live, an analog for SNL. But their window is closing and it’s getting harder and harder to maintain the dream of doing it for real.
Then, one of the members gets that big break. And the rest of The Commune has to grapple with the reality that maybe they aren’t cut out for it.
Don’t Think Twice is a profoundly sad film. It’s about getting older, and learning when it may be time to let the dreams of your youth die. It’s about reconciling your skills and ambition. It’s good, but tough.
It primarily benefits from having a comedian at its helm. Every interaction oozes with authenticity. When Birbiglia’s washed-up improv teacher Miles snarls at Key’s Jack Mercer for rejecting his repeated attempts at a Weekend Live in, you can just imagine this exchange being pulled from the comedian’s own experiences. More than likely everyone who’s ever made it to the top has left a community of others who didn’t. Don’t Think Twice lives in that moment of painful flux. As Jack Mercer rises higher and higher out of his improv roots, the remaining Commune members react with equal parts vicarious curiosity and existential dread. His success is their failure, and the door’s closed behind him.
But it’s how these people deal with that reality that really elevates Don’t Think Twice. Nobody is good. Or at least, nobody is selfless. Jack’s friends in turn become vicious and jealous towards him, because he got what they all wanted.
And the film expertly uses each character to comment on the barriers to success, ranging from circumstantial to self-imposed. Kate Miccuci’s Allison isn’t successful because she abandoned her own writing in favor of complacency. Tami Sagher’s Lindsay is dealing with depression exacerbated by living at home. Jillian Jacob’s Samantha is stuck in her own stasis, unwilling at first to grow and take on the challenges of being an instructor. The impossible dream of making the big time has frozen these people in place while the years tick by. Miles is the most far gone, stuck in an endless cycle of destructive sexual relationships and a fantasy of having gotten a taste of the good life.
And while Jack’s success is literally a result of his showboating for scouts, the film lands in his favor. The Commune’s unspoken rule of teamwork is at its core its first barrier to success. Weekend Live isn’t going to take a group, but they’ve decided to ignore that reality to keep the hope alive. That delusion evaporates the second one of them decides an individual effort is the only thing that will get him his personal idea of success.
By the end these characters have made moves toward resetting their lives, but it’s at the cost of their wildest dreams. Allison writes her book, Lindsay joins the writing staff of Weekend Live after a successful writing submission, and Miles discovers his capacity for companionship, maturity, and fatherhood.
But that’s what makes Don’t Think Twice so honest and hard to swallow. It practically compels you to take stock of your own artistic productivity. While it makes a case for knowing when to quit, and recognizing that things don’t always go your way, it’s very clear about declaring defeat only after you’ve been honest with your effort. The characters that got the things they wanted stepped out of their comfort zones and produced something: Allison with her book, Lindsay with her submission. When Jack Mercer claims that “this will all end, all we can do is jump to the next lily pad” Don’t Think Twice declares that that lily pad doesn’t exist until you start building the bridge yourself. Your goal was never real if you didn’t really reach for it.