The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.
Don’t Think Twice (The Film Arcade)
Written & Directed by Mike Birbiglia
It’s been proven that it’s hard to make a successful drama about comedy (or comedians) because the audience doesn’t know what to expect. Don’t Think Twice is a movie about funny people. The situations aren’t comedic but the characters in those situations are. It is a very good movie but as with all dramas about comedy; The King of Comedy, Jo Jo Dancer, Funny People, Obvious Child or Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me, it is a hard sell. It is a hard sell because it’s easy to expect a laugh a minute from these movies and be disappointed. Because serious movies about comedians are usually kind of depressing. Show me a comedian who isn’t quietly in pain and I’ll show you someone who only thinks that they’re funny. Don’t Think Twice handles this contradiction beautifully. The director Mike Birbiglia knows the subject well and does an excellent job of bringing it to the screen. Don’t Think Twice is really funny when it’s funny, but still really good when it’s not.
Don’t Think Twice is a movie about the skill of comedy improv and about a comedy troop of six friends. Each one, dreaming of success. And success for them is presented here as a call up to the show. (The Show is a baseball term for making it to the major leagues). “The Show” is an SNL type comedy called Weekend Live. They all dream about it. They all know someone who made it. And it all feels very real. Don’t Think Twice stars a bunch of funny people. Some stand-up comedians, some sketch comedy veterans, but all of them amazingly good in this as it hits close to home.
Mike Birbiglia plays the elder statesman of a group of twenty something actors. He was their improv teacher and he performs with the six-man crew at a little theater that charges five dollars for a chance to see extremely likable people make it up as they go along. It’s very cool. I wish I could do stuff like that. I love making people laugh.
One of the best things about Don’t Think Twice is that it is scripted. Completely scripted. I hate when directors turn the cameras on and let funny people wing it. As a writer (god I still call myself that), it’s insulting and it’s a continuity killer and stops the story in its tracks. In basketball it’s like passing the ball to a ball hog. You’re not getting the ball back without a fight. (a basketball is the big orange one that makes watching TV in March unbearable). I don’t know how this review became about sports but I’m just going to roll with it (like in bowling).
In Don’t Think Twice the theme is team work, one of the hallmarks of good improv. But as the group begins to compete to impress talent scouts, the idea of “Yes and…” (a central tenet of improv) becomes “No. But…” and the movie becomes a great example of how competition ruins friendships. Just like in sports, there is no I in team (a team is a group of athletes who work together to score points and win the game). Don’t Think Twice also shows us how not to act when a close friend succeeds and we don’t. And also how something like unilateral success can affect romantic relationships as well. Don’t Think Twice is a very good movie about the life of the show-biz adjacent.
Don’t Think Twice is wonderful. Great performances, great writing… and it’s very funny. It can’t help but be funny, it is about and it stars very funny people. But Don’t Think Twice is not a comedy. It is a great drama. There is pain behind the laughter and it’s beautifully performed. Keenan-Michael Key is fantastic, as is Gillian Jacobs as his girlfriend. I really loved Gillian in Community, but honestly everything she’s done since has been fantastic. I loved her on Girls. I love her in this. And the Netflix show Love (two seasons so far) is phenomenal. I love her in Love… love, love, love.
And Mike Birbiglia handles both of his jobs extremely well, directing and acting. I really like his direction here. You can tell it’s personal for him, and for all of them.
When you pull the drama mask from the actor, you find a professional at work. Someone who may be nothing like the characters they play.
When you pull the comedy mask from the fool, you find a comedian in pain. Someone who needs to make people laugh in order to keep from crying.
Don’t Think Twice is a funny drama. But make no mistake it is a drama. And also it’s very funny. It is a beautiful, low-budget drama about show business and comedy and friendship and improv and varying degrees of success. And I enjoyed it profusely. It’s a really really good movie.