Something funny about Don’t Think Twice: in an era when so many seemingly scripted comedies utilize improvisation (and to *varying* degrees), writer/director/actor Mike Birbiglia has made a quite good scripted comedy that’s about an improv comedy troupe. Or, yes it’s about an improv group, and it’s about what happens to the group’s solidarity when one member (Keegan-Michael Key) says “yes, but” in order to go big-time and leave his mates behind who in all likelihood will languish in art-for-art’s-sake obscurity.
This insider showbiz scenario could have easily been played for nudge, nugde, wink, wink satire– which could’ve been tiresome– but Birbiglia grounds and elaborates it in a bittersweet, rueful, multifaceted manner. The result is not just a movie about envy but a humane portrayal of those who either don’t quite get what it takes to go far and/or have what it takes but have become so immune to failure that they fear success. As most movies about showbiz or the arts are about people who have succeeded or are succeeding, Don’t Think Twice is a rarity of its kind that might make some younger, wannabe artists change their priorities or raise their defenses (as well as inspire some to take an improv class.)
If people aren’t familiar with Key, Gillian Jacobs or even Birbiglia, then this movie will convert some to become fans of them as actors. But for me the stand-out revelation is Chris Gethard as Bill. As Gethard is an improv performer and teacher who has come very close to becoming a bona fide success in real life, he’s basically playing a version of himself in DTT but as I’m of the belief that an actor playing themselves can be the hardest thing to do, especially when it’s less-than-flattering and hits close to home. I don’t mean to sound backhanded because Gethard is very good here. He plays Bill in a low-key, natural and open way that conveys the characters’ struggles better than any of his cast mates. (Also, he has many killer lines during the improv comedy scenes.)
The only thing that doesn’t quite hit the mark is Birbiglia’s filmmaking chops. It’s as though he made most of his best decisions in pre-production than he did when shooting the movie. For instance: many ensemble scenes play as though they were shot but not necessarily blocked in any notable way, and the choice to film the improv performance scenes with a Steadicam as though the viewer is one of the performers on stage is a neat idea that is executed in a fairly monotonous way. So DDT isn’t nowhere near as cinematic as what Woody Allen could do in his prime or even what Louis CK does on his TV show Louie. Nevertheless, he captures some great moments (like when the rest of the improv group grimly watch Key’s performance debut on a show not unlike Saturday Night Live) and he has chops as an actor’s director.
<In a Gene Shalit voice> So think once about seeing… Don’t Think Twice.