The great thing about Mike Birbiglia’s tale of six comics is that although set in New York City, it manages to be about the people and not the place. The city certainly has its part, contributing the crushing poverty, the insane stress and the daily humiliation that makes up the young performer’s life. But “Don’t Think Twice” is so perfectly focused on the people, their successes, failures and illusions, that the viewer cannot help but take it to heart.
Birbiglia (“Sleepwalk with Me”) plays Miles, the senior member and mentor of a six person improv comedy group. The goal of everyone in the group is to give and receive support while trying to work oneself out of a job. Improv is a sort of a purgatory boot camp that comics go through until they pull the brass ring or hit the bottom of despair. As in military boot camp, all each member of the group has is each other. No one else understands why they are doing what they are doing, appreciates their wins and adequately mourns their losses.
One of the group, Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), emerges early as a target of the group’s criticism for his self-centered monopolizing of the on stage routine. But even as the group criticizes him, the viewer sees both sides of the situation. The tough, ambitious and aggressive win. The question that emerges is whether or not these are the best determinants. By the end of the movie, we have the answer although it is not simple.
Miles and the other five characters struggle with Jack’s success. He gets his big break and joins a TV comedy show, although he soon finds that working for demonic producer Timothy may be more of a death sentence than manna from heaven. As the group struggles to keep a stiff upper lip and continue with their grueling improv schedule, schisms develop faster than cracks from a Richter 7 earthquake. What was once a happy family is becoming quarreling, suspicious siblings snapping at each other’s heels and, even worse, sucking each other’s creativity for their own selfish ends.
Although the movie’s acting and direction turn it into a first-rate story of a classic human cauldron, in the end is it less of a cautionary tale and more of a cheerleading session. Success comes in many ways. The worst mistake anyone can make is thinking they know what they want. Once the reality of one’s needs is accepted, the rest comes easy.
Perhaps it could be said that all of the actors are in about the same stage of their lives as are the characters they play in the film. They are being noticed and making ends meet but not yet famous. Some will become famous and some will not. Perhaps it is because the writer/director is in roughly the same situation and it able to develop a great screen chemistry with the group. For whatever reason, this true ensemble movie comes alive on screen.
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