In the marketing of Don’t Think Twice there was an emphasis on both explaining the concepts behind improv comedy and the idea that chasing your dreams is something that eventually has to come to an end. The movie, I was happy to find, delivers on both of those promises.
The story follows the six members of the New York improv troupe The Commune. Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) is a die-hard believer in the art-form who’s dating Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), who sees it as a stepping stone to something bigger. Miles (writer/director Mike Birbiglia) is a lifer who’s been doing this for years and has seen fame and fortune pass him by repeatedly. Also there are Bill (Chris Gethard), Allison (Kate Micucci) and Lindsay (Tami Sagher). Their perfect struggling artist bubble is burst by real life when Jack does indeed achieve stardom, Bill’s dad passes away and the other members all realize the time has come to do something else.
Throughout the movie there’s constant discussion of what constitutes improv. Does it adhere to the rules of the form? Is it coming from a pure place? Is improv a means in and of itself or is it simply a bridge to elsewhere? Birbiglia sprinkles his script, mainly using Samanthas a conduit, with quotes and insights from Del Close and other trailblazers in the genre, providing the audience with a history and background that helps show this isn’t just about working without a script but creating something wholly original as a group each night.
For me the story itself, which sees the slow disintegration of the group as opportunities are seized and passed on in one form or another by all the characters, was less interesting than these more philosophical, historical elements. Thankfully they all tie together relatively well in the end. No one is really the bad guy since they’re each doing what they feel called and drawn to do. Some of those decisions are more painful – and hurtful – than others and cause some of the unrest that upsets the foundation of the group. Everyone is just following, or abandoning, their dreams as they see fit and asking their friends to support that, regardless of the impact they might have.
The group Birbiglia assembled is, of course, wonderful. Just as in any actual improv group, each fills a role and does so well. Jacobs and Birbiglia himself really shine, though, as the emotional core of the group. They’re the true believers, the ones who see themselves as the continuation of a tradition and lineage they find important and worthwhile. When they make big decisions as to how they’re going to seize control of their futures, it guides the direction of the story more than anything else and truly makes an impression on the audience.
Even if you’re not a huge improv fan, Don’t Think Twice is worth checking out as it’s streaming now on Netflix. It’s a great ensemble comedy with a tragic heart.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.