Cinematic Releases: Don't Think Twice (2016) - Reviewed

There are few things in art more satisfying than experiencing a film in which the creator has unquestionably found their voice.  It strikes a chord that reverberates with a tone that is distinct and undeniable.  Don’t Think Twice is that film for Mike Birbiglia.  It’s a tone-perfect exploration of the lives and stories of improv performers.  It’s honest and sweet and brilliantly believable.  It’s a delightful punch directly to the guts.  It hurts, but in the best way.

Don’t Think Twice does two things astonishingly well.  First, it flawlessly captures the essence of what it means to be an improviser.  Birbiglia and his group of friends absolutely nail being improvisers, from their demeanors on stage, to the content of the improvised scenes, to the everyday social interactions between a cadre of individuals that are in constant competition to be the funniest person in the room; the dialogue and performances rarely falter.  Second, it delivers an unwaveringly accurate study on the nature of envy.  As one player in the troupe achieves the success that every member has been striving for, the others struggle with the very human desire to resent and reject.  Each character reacts reasonably and realistically, and while the resulting interactions are awkward, they are perfectly believable.  Most impressively, however, is that audiences will relate comfortably with both sides of the disputes.  It’s wonderful to behold.

Gillian Jacobs' role as Sam is particularly beautiful.  Her personal arc of self-discovery and Jacobs' performance are impactful and heartfelt.  Keegan-Michael Key is great, due greatly to a character that is never caricatured or exploited.  He nails all of the aspects of his problematic and sudden success - from measured elation, to careful humility, to honest trepidation as he attempts to navigate newfound professional and emotional minefields.  The remaining members of the troupe receive similar screen-time, but lack the proximity to the plot.  That being said, each succeeds dramatically and comedically and give the movie a consistency that is often lacking in indie dramedies.

Can we get a suggestion for a household object that isn't a dildo?

It’s difficult to say which is most impressive - Birbiglia’s directing, writing, or performance.  The film is tight and intimate.  It occasionally seems to forget that it’s a film at all, and takes on a documentary-like feel.  The camerawork is nuanced and subtle, and music choices are minimal, but appropriate and never invasive.  Dialogue is believable and clever, the plot is well-paced, and the viewer is bound to be emotionally invested in each of the character’s personal journeys.  Birbiglia has written himself a character that fits like a glove.  His pain, shame, and aspiration are just so damn relatable.  One moment, in particular, is stuff of dramatic legend.  Muted and unassuming, Birbiglia is so vulnerable and honest that the emotional effect is undeniable.  The aforementioned gut-punch?  This moment is the sharpest one of all.

Don’t Think Twice encapsulates one feeling with perfection – what it’s like to let go of your dreams.  With scant exceptions, we all fail to achieve our greatest aspirations.  We aren’t all world-class surgeons, or Broadway performers, or master trial attorneys – and we all have to come to terms with that reality at some point in our youth.  This theme is excellently executed and may even make Don’t Think Twice a hard watch for some.

This is New York city. Even the most talented performers live in squalor. 

One final caveat, however.  This review likely reads like Don’t Think Twice is a perfect movie.  It’s not.  It’s wonderful, and human, and painful, but it’s not perfect.  For this viewer, however, as an aging Millennial with a passion for improvisational theater, it’s about as good as it gets.  To me, it’s a perfect ten, but to the average viewer, Don’t Think Twice may not have the same impact.  Regardless, it’s an excellent journey that certainly deserves a viewing.

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-Patrick B. McDonald