Mark Reviews Movies

Don't Think Twice


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Mike Birbiglia

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

MPAA Rating: R (for language and some drug use)

Running Time: 1:32

Release Date: 7/22/16 (limited); 7/29/16 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 29, 2016

At one point, a character in Don't Think Twice refers to a long-running, late-night sketch comedy show as the closest thing the world of improv comedy has to competitive sports. The competition isn't in the show, of course, but in the process of actually making it as a member of the cast. Think of those statistics about how few college athletes actually make it into the pros, and now imagine if there were only one professional team to fill.

That's kind of the situation here, in which performers, who have been dreaming of a career as an improv comic for years and decades, have only one substantial chance of actually making it. The pool of candidates is deep and nationwide, and there are maybe a dozen or so people in the cast.

The odds are terrible. Even stranger, it seem that any of the characters are too keen on the show, either. It was funnier when they were younger, one character argues. That's when Miles (writer/director Mike Birbiglia) asks a vital question: Was the show funnier when they were younger, or was the show funnier because they were younger? Has this staple of television ever actually been funny? Is it even keeping to the spirit improv comedy in the first place?

There's an obvious point to make. These questions and the implications of them are simply the words of jaded, disillusioned people who are jealous of the show and its cast. After all, Miles auditioned for the program years ago and was rejected, while at least one of his colleagues went on to join the cast. One imagines Miles' cynicism as being akin to an athlete who tried to make it in the professional leagues, failed, and now complains that the league doesn't really play the "real" sport anyway.

Now, Miles is teaching improv to aspiring talents, with hopes as high as their faces are bright, and participating in stage shows with a comedy troupe called the Commune. The people he knew have moved on to other things, and the troupe is a mix of the old guard and his former students. The latter group's potential to make it is still there, if dwindling, but Miles is pretty much finished, even if he can't admit it.

The theater where he runs classes and the troupe puts on shows is about to close. Maybe they should take it as a sign, another performer suggets.

All of this points to something else in regards to the discussion about the late-night sketch show. Maybe it was funnier when these characters were young because they could say, "I want to do that." It stayed funny enough as they honed their craft because they were still able to say, "I could do that." They became jaded about the format once they started saying, "I should be doing that," and now they are on the verge of realizing that they're about to say, "I'm never going to be doing that."

Miles is the closest to the realization, which might be why he's the one who fights reality the hardest. This isn't just Miles' story, although he is a central figure in the way he must confront the bitterness of reality. It's also about this tight-knit group of people, who share the same dream and always seem ready to resent each other on the chance that one of them gets a foot in the door of success.

Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), one of Miles' oldest former students, is just about there, and everyone knows it. He and his girlfriend Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) get a call for an audition for the sketch show. They don't talk about it with the rest of the colleagues, and the rest of their colleagues return the favor. This is even with their living situation. Almost all of them live together in an apartment, which visitors uniformly joke about it having the vibe of a college dorm.

After the audition, the film becomes a study of how the characters react to success from the inside and the outside. Miles and the remainder of the troupe—Bill (Chris Gethard), Allison (Kate Micucci), and Lindsay (Tami Sagher)—are quiet about their jealousy but persistent in asking Jack, their newly famous friend, when he can get the producers to come to a Commune show. They also become instantly interested in writing sketches instead of coming up with them on the fly, since the rumor is that the show's performers get to select a team of writers for their material.

Each of the characters has a story to one degree or another, although Birbiglia's screenplay doesn't quite make each character a vital component of the overarching narrative. Lindsay lives with her wealthy parents and gets an unemployment check. Allison is also an artist, who has written and drawn a graphic novel about a young girl who is stymied by the pressure of potential achievement, but she refuses to submit her work. Bill must deal with family problems and the anxiety that the person who once championed him now thinks he's a failure.

The thrust of the story, though, belongs to the fading relationship between Jack and Samantha, who didn't go through with the audition out of a combination of dread and comfort with the way things are, as well as Miles' mounting fear that, on the wrong end of his 30s, he's going to have to figure out how to grow up. A high school classmate (Maggie Kemper), who was the star of the plays back then, shows up with a little perspective.

Don't Think Twice is wise about the way people cling to the dreams of the past, even when the promise of the future could be better. Better, of course, is still different, and for some folks, that's a prospect too frightening to entertain.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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