Comedy is Humanity in Magnanimous ‘Don’t Think Twice’

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CHICAGO – Comedian/writer/director Mike Birbiglia is breaking out as a filmmaker, and he adds a deft and emotional touch to a story of an improvisation comedy troupe split apart by change they didn’t expect. That sounds a lot like life, and it’s best to “Don’t Think Twice.”

Part backstage show business story, part understanding of creative (and other types of) partnering, “Don’t Think Twice” blends the elements through the centerpiece of the improvisation stage – a particular kind of comedy presentation that relies on those stage partners and an individual’s ability to make a quick decision. Sometimes – like in life – those partners have your back, or can just as quickly and suddenly leave you behind. This is Mike Birbiglia’s second film, and it shows a progress and maturity as a director that is reaching true heights of comedy and the challenges of being human.

“The Commune” is in their 11th year as an improvisation group, a comedy troupe that formulates sketches from audience suggestions. The troupe consists of Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), Miles (Mike Birbiglia), Bill (Chris Gethard), Allison (Kate Micucci) and Lindsay (Tami Sagher). They are in New York City, and the brass ring for their type of comedy is an audition for a “Saturday Night Live” type show.

Think Twice II
Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) and Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) in ‘Don’t Think Twice’
Photo credit: The Film Arcade

The Manhattan comedy club that has been their home announces that its closing. At the same time, two of the troupe members secretly gets the “Weekend Show” audition. These transitions weigh heavy on the dynamic within the relationships in the troupe. The times, they are a-changin’, and it remains to be seen whether these long time friends came endure those changes.

Yep, it’s about the old “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” circumstance, and it’s handled with a fine line truth that is totally authentic. Writer/director Birbiglia instinctively knew how to balance the absurdity of the stage with the difficulties off stage. The film has the advantage of being hilarious when highlighting the troupe in performance, and real when they are themselves.

The cast is simply killer. The white hot Keegan-Michael Key (“Key & Peele”) really extends his brand, both in comedy and straight performance, but the MVP of the troupe is Gillian Jacobs (the blonde on “Community”). She is a natural born comedian, but her best is in the loneliness of smaller emotional moments. All the other troupe members – Mike Birbiglia, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci and Tami Sagher – all get their focus, and they all knock it out of the park.

One of the more interesting philosophies that come out of the transitions is the very human desire for the best times to stay great, and never go away. That is represented through the Gillian Jacobs character, who loves the feeling of the troupe and their stage play, but when it is upended by change her perspective gets a bit lost. But as Birbiglia’s precise storytelling opines, the only thing constant in life is change.

Think Twice
’The Commune,’ the Comedy Troupe in ‘Don’t Think Twice’
Photo credit: The Film Arcade

It will be interesting to understand who the audience will be for the film. It is a “backstage story,” as old as when the Greeks invented theater. Is this a universal interest, or will this just appeal to show business freaks, improv members and hangers on? There is an argument either way, but my argument is that this story is indeed universal, as we all go through the pain and glory of “when one door closes, another opens.”

There is such a beautifully symbolic instant on stage, in which Gillian Jacobs is alone, improvising that she is at the bottom of a well, portraying both the trapped individual and the people scheming above on how to get her out. In what transpires next, it proves that it does “take a village.”

CLICK HERE for the interview with Mike Birbiglia of “Don’t Think Twice.”

“Don’t Think Twice” continues its release in Chicago on July 29th at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 North Southport, Chicago. Featuring Mike Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Tami Sagner, Chris Gethard and Kate Miccuci Written and directed by Mike Birbiglia. Rated “R” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2016 Patrick McDonald,

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