DON’T THINK TWICE (Mike Birbiglia, 2016)
Landmark Sunshine Cinema
143 East Houston St. between First & Second Aves.
Opens Thursday, July 21
Massachusetts-born, Brooklyn-based actor, comedian, writer, and director Mike Birbiglia turns to the improv scene in the bittersweet and very funny Don’t Think Twice. The follow-up to his 2012 indie hit Sleepwalk with Me, which was adapted from his one-man show of the same name, Don’t Think Twice focuses on a close-knit group of friends who have been performing together as the Commune for eleven years, always holding on to the dream that they will be discovered and asked to join the cast of Weekend Live, a Saturday Night Live-style network sketch comedy program. Miles (Birbiglia), who still sleeps in a bunk bed like he’s a college student, is the ersatz leader of the troupe, which also includes Sam (Gillian Jacobs) and Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), who are in love; Allison (Kate Micucci), who also wants to be a graphic novelist; Bill (Chris Gethard), who lives in the shadow of his tough-as-nails father (Seth Barrish); and Lindsay (Tami Sagher), the only one for whom money is not a problem, supported by her wealthy family. Just as the Commune finds out that it is losing its lease and will have to find a new home, talent scouts from Weekend Live watch a performance and ask two of the six members to audition for the show, creating friction within the group, which only gets worse when one actually gets the gig. Jealousy, ego, and envy threaten to end long-held friendships while the six comics reevaluate their lives and careers, trying to figure out what they really want and whether there’s a real chance to achieve those goals.
Inspired by real-life events (but not a true story), Don’t Think Twice is an honest and poignant look at the fragility of love and friendship. Birbiglia transfers the playful feeling of the hysterical onstage improv comedy scenes — which were filmed at the Lynn Redgrave Theater, where his latest one-man show, Thank God for Jokes, recently completed a successful run — to the offstage drama as the remaining members of the aptly named Commune consider their future as individuals and as a unit. Jacobs (Community, Love), the only one of the protagonists who did not have previous improv experience (the others were part of either Second City or the Upright Citizens Brigade), takes to the comedic form with an intoxicating glee, fitting in exceptionally well with the veterans and particularly with Key (Key and Peele); they share a tender chemistry that propels the film. Birbiglia, who has toured with Gethard (The Chris Gethard Show), plays the schlumpy Miles with a natural ease that keeps it all real. Cinematographer Joe Anderson (Simon Killer, The Benefactor) weaves in and around the comedians as they perform (the improv scenes were filmed twice, once scripted, once not), putting viewers onstage instead of in the audience, resulting in a more cathartic experience. The film features several cameos, from Richard Masur and Richard Kline to — well, we wouldn’t want to spoil the surprises. Don’t think twice about seeing Don’t Think Twice, which is opening July 21 at the Landmark Sunshine, with Birbiglia and producer Ira Glass — Birbiglia is a regular contributor to Glass’s NPR show, This American Life — participating in Q&As after multiple screenings July 21-24, but they’re selling out quick.