“Don’t Think Twice” nails why improv is special
Film Critic Harry Westergaard offers thoughts on a new film about improvisational comedy, Don't Think Twice.
September 8, 2016
Don’t Think Twice is a movie about improvisational comedy, an interesting topic which I don’t think gets nearly enough attention on the screen. Written and directed by Mike Birbiglia, the film is a fun character piece that really nails that a big part of improv is the friendships of the members of a troupe — but it doesn’t just show the fun parts. It also shows how working with friends like this can be hard.
The film explores what happens when one of the members of the group gets a big break and the others don’t. Most of the group try to catch up with Jack (Keegan Michael Key) when he gets a job on the film’s version of Saturday Night Live, except for Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) who doesn’t really want to move on, which is a problem because the theatre they are working at is closing down. The film is a meditation on change and how it impacts us all in different ways. Jack shows how change might be better for some and welcomes it. Whereas Samantha is happy where she’s at, and is resistant to change, which is inevitable since the group’s theater is closing down. Miles (Mike Birbiglia) is a character who may be in the most need of a change. He’s an improv teacher living in a dorm room who has had numerous failed relationships. Miles needs a change, but is struggling to find one. The characters are the film’s strength. They are all very fleshed out and feel like real people.
Part of the reason that the characters come across so well is the writing. As previously stated, Birbiglia did the writing, and it’s great. The other reason is that the cast is great. It’s an ensemble, and each member does a great job. With a lot of movies featuring big casts you often find yourself thinking “I really like the four main characters, but the other three could be cut.” We don’t get that with this film. All of the characters have a place in the story and a story of their own. The actors all have very good chemistry and interactions with each other. It makes them all the more believable in their roles. The film also has a nice soundtrack. It’s not hugely memorable, but it does the job well and fits the movie’s tone. Also, be on the lookout for an instrumental version of the song the title references in the end credits. Another element of the production I liked was the use of Del Close quotes book ending the feature, appearing at the beginning and conclusion.
If I’m going to nitpick I would say that it feels very set in the current times, examples being the use of smartphones and social media and a bit on one of the current presidential nominees near the beginning. This isn’t really a problem, as it’s barely enough where I could see people in the future not enjoying it, but just a petty observation of mine. Plus, to show the friend group, you have to show other aspects of their communication and interaction, such as smartphones. I think it will age more like The Breakfast Club than say, Wall Street.
Overall, I found Don’t Think Twice to be an immensely fun film. It has a very good cast, and I would highly recommend it if you are looking for a good time. I recommend it to everyone but especially to those who work in improv and theatre in general.