Mike Birbiglia follows up his autobiographical Sleepwalk with Me (2012) with the autobiographical story of every wannabe improv comic, Don't Think Twice. The film follows a group of six friends who comprise an improv troupe called The Commune as they deal with the potential breakout success of one of their members.
Watching sub-par improv is unpleasant enough, but watching a fiction film about the trials and tribulations of sub-par improvisers is pretty unbearable—especially one as shallow and awkwardly structured as this. The internal struggles depicted in the film may accurately depict what most up-and-coming comics have to deal with, but the life lessons they learn are so rudimentary they feel condescending. Rather than spending ninety minutes trying to care about the characters in Don't Think Twice you can get the full understanding of everything covered in the picture by simply having a couple of beers at any bar located next to any improv theater in any major city—you won’t have to eavesdrop, the folks at the next table will be plenty loud.
The romantic subplot at the movie’s heart features strong performances from Keegan-Michael Key and Gillian Jacobs, but we get little sense of their characters outside of the troupe. The film’s narrative focus is spread too thinly across the ensemble for us to invest in how things will turn out for any of The Commune’s members. Birbiglia seems more interested in authentically depicting what it’s like to be in an improv group than exploring any deep themes or ideas. His attempt at realism fails out of the gate because he and his fellow cast members are all far too established and talented to come off credibly playing these insecure, self-pitying mediocrities.
The verisimilitude is hobbled further by the movie’s absurd timeline and the way key plot points unfold. The narrative takes place during the last three weeks before the troupe’s home theater closes down. In that short time, one of the members gets his first audition for a Saturday Night Live style TV show, gets hired, joins the cast, and gains some initial success and national recognition—quite a three weeks! The morally questionable way he scores his biggest success on the TV show may ring true in spirit, but its execution comes off patently false and contrived. We’re also asked to believe that there are still recently closed porno-movie theaters sitting dormant in upstate New York (I’m not even sure there are any regular movie theaters there these days).
The moral of the movie seems to be, "not everyone gets to be famous," or "most of us aren't as talented as we think we are." I believe we’re supposed to find it brave and high-minded for a comedian to state such raw candor about his own community. But, while twentysomethings discovering these truths as part of a right of passage might make for a moving collegiate coming-of-age picture, it's impossible to summon up much empathy when watching folks in their mid-30s and 40s wrestle with the concepts.