This review originally ran on June 10th, 2016 during the Los Angeles Film Festival
Mike Birbiglia’s first feature, 2012’s “Sleepwalk With Me,” was one of the more interesting and promising directorial debuts of the former half of the decade. Birbiglia, who also starred in the film, buoyed the adaptation of his own stand-up routine with rare honesty and awkward charisma that made for one of the better examinations of comedy and the creative process of recent filmography. Relentlessly charming, but perhaps too slight for its own good, “Sleepwalk With Me” cemented Birbiglia as a triple threat to watch. His newest film, “Don’t Think Twice,” finds him diving deeper into the comedy world with a wider appeal, but with the same wonderful perspective of life on the outskirts from stardom intact.
Birbiglia stars as Miles, a longtime Improv 101 teacher, and ringleader of his mildly popular NYC improv troupe, The Commune, including the spunky Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), who has to confront the professional drive of her TV-minded boyfriend Jack (Keegan-Michael Key); the gawky Bill (Chris Gethard) who is dealing with his elder father’s waning health; Lindsay (Tami Sagher), a thirty-something stoner still living with her wealthy parents, and the quiet Allison (Kate Micucci) is struggling to complete a graphic novel she has been working on for the better part of a decade. The Commune is both their getaway and the anchor in their anxious lives. But, after Jack gets a regular role on “Weekend Live” (an uncanny satire of “SNL”), each individual in the troupe begins to rethink their life’s trajectories and their meanings within their friend circle.
One of few disappointments of Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk With Me” was his lack of visual confidence. While “Don’t Think Twice” does not call for anything fancy itself, there is an understated beauty and softness to the cinematography that enhances its tonal tenderness. Birbiglia, as it seems, is less concerned with cinematics and more concerned with chemistry, and the character’s said chemistry sure does pop. While the film isn’t as particularly laugh-out-loud funny as may be expected, the dialogue is extremely punchy and in perfect tempo. Much of the humor comes not from jokes, but from very authentic, marvelously played situations. Again, Birbiglia proves he has a very keen knack for finding both heart and humor in the creative struggle. He and his cast have a rare understanding of the comedy in strife that always steers the emotional beats away from any puddle of schmaltz. For a comedian, a professional more often finding emotion in words, Birbiglia and his actors create drama through the emotions his characters hold in–a technique that pays off immensely in a few later beats.
At its surface, “Don’t Think Twice” may be about comedy, but it’s a snapshot of a very familiar period in the lives of not only creatives, but all types of people confronting a certain kind of adulthood and responsibility. It is refreshing to find a movie that looks at showbiz–a smaller corner of showbiz, at that–and doesn’t try to satirize itself too much which can often alienate. For “Don’t Think Twice,” the Improv world is the glue that holds the characters together, but it is Birbiglia’s characters and their hopes and anxieties that are the glitter that makes the film sparkle.
“Don’t Think Twice” is rated R for language and some drug use. 92 minutes. Now playing at the Landmark Theatre.