In 2012, Mike Birbiglia brought his one-man show Sleepwalk with Me, a project he developed with This American Life host Ira Glass, to the big screen and he was heralded as an indie filmmaker to watch. Four years later, Birbiglia is back with a film that uses the same comedic sensibilities to create more of an ensemble piece.
Sleepwalk was set in the world of stand-up comedy while Don’t Think Twice switches to the world of improv comedy, and how the New York troupe The Commune is forced to reconsider their priorities after they’re exiled from their theater at the same time as one of them achieves the fame the others want.
The members of the Commune—Miles (Birbiglia), Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), Sam (Gillian Jacobs), Allison (Kate Micucci), Bill (Chris Gethard) and Tami Sagher (Lindsay)—do everything together, and it’s always been all about the team rather than each individual. They know each other so well that improvising together is done on instinct, and that’s especially the case with Jack and Sam, who are a couple. But improv comedy doesn’t pay the rent, and all of them have day jobs, including Miles, who teaches younger comics how to do improv (often while dating some of his 20-something students). They also have dreams of being on the hit comedy show “Weekend Live,” which as you might guess is meant to represent the comedian Mecca Saturday Night Live.
And just as they’re learning that the theater where they perform is closing, they also have a chance to impress a few “Weekend Live” cast members that might help them get on the show. Sam and Jack are called to do auditions, but only Jack manages to be cast on the show after Sam freaks out and skips her audition altogether.
Who knows how much of any of what happens in the movie is based on Birbiglia’s own experiences, but unlike Sleepwalk with Me, the movie isn’t all about Miles; it’s about the group and how Jack’s success changes their dynamic. The first major difference after Jack leaves, besides there only being five of them, is that when he does return to grace their presence, the audience just wants to hear Jack do “Weekend Live” bits. This seems like a fairly real scenario especially with actual comedy groups like the Groundlings and Second City having long been a breeding ground for SNL.
The whole “Weekend Live” aspect of the film is particularly amusing, especially when the members of The Commune are watching the show on television and commenting on it, much like most longtime SNL viewers might do. Their reaction to one particularly bad made-up band is priceless. There are also a lot of laughs to be had whenever we see the group doing their performances, especially Keegan-Michael Key, who pulls out some great bits as the showboating Jack.
Birbiglia similarly creates another interesting character in Miles, who is now in his mid-30s but still living in what looks like a college dorm, which doesn’t go over well when he finally meets someone he likes his own age and tries to become a responsible adult.
What makes Don’t Think Twice more enjoyable than Sleepwalk is that the focus isn’t constantly on Birbiglia, and he allows the always great Jacobs and Key to really shine, both comically and in some of their more poignant moments as Jack’s rise begins to affect their relationship.
Birbiglia is really showing himself to be quite a sold filmmaker both in terms of coming up with a good basis for comedy but also pacing the film in such a way that it gets more enjoyable the more time you spend with the characters. Of course, that’s just as much a credit to the talented group he cast around himself, but he makes all of their interactions feel very natural, both when they’re on stage and off.
It’s very likely that if you enjoyed Birbiglia’s voice in Sleepwalk with Me and are interested in the business of comedy, Don’t Think Twice will appeal just as much. It works just as well as a simple but nice character-based comedy about fame and friendship, and it continues to show off Birbiglia’s skills as a filmmaker and storyteller.
Don’t Think Twice opens in New York on July 22 and expands nationwide afterward.
This review was first published on April 20, 2016.