In Don’t Think Twice, comedian Mike Birbiglia writes and directs a masterful look at the life of improve comics. The improv troupe at the center of this movie is six people large and I’ll admit I, at first, thought this was too many for everyone to get developed, but Birbiglia manages to gives them all character arcs (some admittedly more abbreviated than others) and make them all feel real. The troupe is loaded with wonderful comedic performers. And if you’re a podcast nut like me, you’ll know a lot of people from that arena. Keegan-Michael Key gives a really wonderful performance as the member of the troupe who gets a big break and finds himself drifting apart from his less successful compatriots; there’s a scene near the end of the film that showcases a surprising gift for purely dramatic acting that I wasn’t expecting from Key. Gillian Jacobs is Key’s girlfriend and troupe leader and she’s career best here. Birbiglia himself is a revelation as the schlubby improv teacher who’s grown more and more bitter over the years as his students achieve greater success than he does. Chris Gethard, a comedian I’ve had a negative reaction to in the past, is fantastic as the man trying to balance live performing and the sadness of his real life. Tami Saghar & Kate Micucci (one of my comedy crushes, if I’m being honest) are both really great as well. The script is extremely funny and incredibly sad. It would be easy to say this film is “about” any number of things: friendship, art & commerce, maturity & the funny ways we avoid it and maybe find it, nostalgia, the feeling of reaching a dead-end in your life. I really found this to be one of the most effecting films I’ve seen all year. Birbiglia’s script is dead-perfect, hitting all the emotional moments Birbiglia wants it to while having the air of rambling aimlessly. It’s a quiet film, but the emotions are real. I feel all of the above themes I mentioned are present, but to reduce the film to any of them feels like a reduction of its brilliance. Birbiglia has a worldview that’s really quite beautiful. He sees a kind of restless melancholy and a nagging sadness as central to our lives, central to the human experience. But he argues that we should embrace these things instead of fleeing them because they are ultimately neither impediment nor even opposite to a real happiness that expresses itself in both explosive moments of exuberance and in quiet moments of contentment. It’s a philosophy both profound and deeply moving. There are plenty of movies that manage to be both funny and sad; I don’t think I’ve ever encountered one that really made those emotions feel so legitimately part of each other. It isn’t a mastery of shifting tones as much as it’s a very specific single tone that manages to embrace and evoke both. This is a beautiful movie that I can’t recommend strongly enough. And a special note: this has the best credits music I’ve heard in a really long time. No spoilers, but the way the transition from the ending of the film to the credits is absolutely perfect and the music sums up everything that’s come before. Great film. 4 stars.
tl;dr – beautiful script examines the emotions of an improv troupe with insight, sensitivity and plenty of humor; funny, sad & thoughtful with great performances. 4 stars.