Don’t Think Twice is the second directorial effort of stand up comedian Mike Birbiglia. The film revolves around a group of aspiring comedians who get by on help from their parents, crappy part time jobs, and $5-a-piece ticket sales to their improv shows. When one of their own, Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), finally makes it big by earning a role on Weekend Live (the film’s equivalent to Saturday Night Live), it tests the groups loyalties and forces them all to question their respective futures.
Where the film succeeds is in balancing cynicism with comedy. It never strays too far in either direction, instead keeping the audience laughing while providing somber themes via subtext. Birbiglia’s real life experience shines through, as the story feels reminiscent of many stories of success and failure in the bustling New York comedy scene. Without ever descending into a tone too dark, the film tackles the jealousies and anxieties of these aspiring comedians watching their friend make it to the big time, as well as the harsh reality of what “making it” really means.
The central relationship in the film is between Jack and Samantha (Gillian Jacobs). When they both earn an audition for Weekend Live, Jack gets the part while Samantha’s anxiety prevents her from showing up for her audition. Whether driven by fear or contentedness, she seems insistent on maintaining the lifestyle of living off her meager improv show income rather than trying to attain mainstream success. The relationship is heavily strained throughout the film as Jack’s star ascends, but doesn’t take the obvious course. There is no shouting match or heated confrontation. Instead Birbiglia allows the viewer to sympathize with both characters, and in doing so he makes the relationship very relatable.
Miles, Birbiglia’s character, is the seasoned veteran of the group, having worked as the improv teacher for most of the others. Through Miles the audience sees the difficulty of aging while failing to take the next step in achieving your dream. His character makes the audience wonder whether determination can overcome lacking talent, and at what point it is time to give up on one’s dreams and face reality. To paraphrase Bill (Chris Gethard), your 20s is a time to have hope and your 30s is a time to wonder why you ever had hope.
Bill, Allison (Kate Micucci), and Lindsay (Tami Sagher) serve as the other member of the group and the more secondary characters. Together they represent all stages of the artists struggle. When Bill’s father is badly injured in a motorcycle accident, it forces him to confront the reality of life, as he despairs at the thought of being a failure when his father dies. Allison displays fear and tentativeness, as she is a talented cartoonist who can’t bring herself to submit her cartoons to a publisher. Lindsay, coming from a very wealthy family, raises questions about whether it is okay to chase a difficult dream when you have access to easy success.
Ultimately, the group comes together as a perfect cast for the film. Together the cast make up a quintessential group of artists trying to achieve their dreams. They are all strange in their own ways, and they all face a very distinct set of challenges. The audience gets the sense that the subject matter was very personal and relatable for each of the actors. It is well known in the comedy world that a role on Saturday Night Live is the dream for many new entrants to the industry, and that this has been the path to substantial success for a number of actors. However, the harsh reality of the situation is that it is just the first major step on a long and difficult road to success. The film confronts this industry conundrum from the inside and the outside.
Don’t Think Twice, while broaching serious topics, will certainly keep you laughing consistently throughout. I know that I missed many jokes in a mix of uproarious audience laughter – I eagerly look forward to a second viewing.