‘Don’t Think Twice’ Review: Mike Birbiglia’s Hilariously Bittersweet Examination of Friendship, Aging and Improv Comedy [SXSW 2016]

The cast of 'Don't Think Twice' Mike Birbiglia

They say that New York is a city for the very rich and the very young. But what happens when you’re neither of those? Don’t Think Twice, the sophomore directorial effort from Mike Birbiglia, seeks to examine that very question. Centering on a talented, but financially struggling group of thirtysomething improv comedians called The Commune, Don’t Think Twice is immediately recognizable as a semi-autobiographical tale of its director’s (and star’s) career.

Anchored by an ensemble cast that features the likes of Keegan-Michael Key and Gillian Jacobs, Don’t Think Twice opens lightheartedly enough as the band of performers execute yet another successful show at their local Manhattan theater. But despite the wealth of laughs they provide, The Commune is short on money, and we soon learn that their venue will be forced to close down in the near future.

Miles (Birbiglia), the founder and leader of the comedy troupe, is hopeful that a call from 'Weekend Live' (an obvious spoof of 'Saturday Night Live') is around the corner. Until then, however, he’s content to keep living in his tiny, dorm-esque apartment while sleeping with 22-year-old women. Jack (Key) and Sam (Jacobs) happily date and share an apartment, but deliver sandwiches and host at a restaurant, respectively. The others work crappy jobs as well, and it’s clear that time is starting to run out on their dreams of making it to the big time.

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The cast of 'Don't Think Twice' Photo: Mike Birbiglia

Everything changes, however, when a 'Weekend Live' scout attends one of The Commune’s shows and hires Jack to the staff. Now the others must congratulate their friend while holding back their jealousy of him snatching away their dream jobs. This sets in motion the central themes of Don’t Think Twice: professional envy, selling out to the mainstream and trying to survive in a city that is notorious for chewing people up and spitting them back out.

Don’t Think Twice is hilarious throughout, but these dramatic elements begin to weigh on The Commune’s professional and personal relationships as the film moves forward. It’s clear that all of these friends are equally as talented, and the sudden propulsion of one member to fame drives multiple wedges between the group that becomes tragically compelling  These people all love their art, their city, and each other, making it bittersweet to watch the success of one drag down the remainder of the crew. It’s a relatable phenomenon that we have all experienced (or will) at some point or another.

That being said, the cast of Don’t Think Twice have a magnetic chemistry that makes the film a pleasure to watch even in its darkest moments. It’s a perfect blend of comedy and drama that will fill viewers with a satisfying range of emotions throughout. The ending wraps up smoothly as well, rendering it impossible to walk out of the theater without a heightened sense of understanding and appreciation. It’s another great effort from Birbiglia, who is now two for two as a director thanks to his first triumph, Sleepwalk With Me.

Don’t Think Twice premiered at the South by Southwest film festival and is currently seeking distribution. Stay tuned to iDigitalTimes for continuing coverage of SXSW 2016.

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