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Don’t Think Twice

I was briefly part of an improv comedy troupe when I was in college. I was pretty terrible; I have never been very good at getting on the same wavelength as other people quickly — I tend to live in my own little world — and matching another person’s vibe is the essence of improv. But I loved the experience, and have loved improv ever since. There’s nothing quite like that sense of creating something on the spot — a joke, a premise, a little world — something funny and interesting, and then changing it, tweaking it, and then letting it give way to the next thing, and the next. It’s exhilarating to be a part of, and entertaining to watch.  And even when it’s over, the bond you’ve formed with your fellow players is still there. It’s unlike any other art form, even other forms of theater.

Mike Birbiglia’s indie comedy Don’t Think Twice is about a improv troupe, and the way it falls apart. A lot like Sleepwalk With Me (but better,) it’s a sad movie with lots of funny bits, or a funny movie with a melancholy theme. The troupe has existed for several years, and bonded so tightly together that they’re hardly ever apart.  They eat, sleep and watch Weekend Live (a slightly veiled version of SNL) together. But as close as they are to each other, they are very different people, and want different things from life, and from their careers.

Things start to unravel when Keegan-Michael Key (I’m not going to bother with character names, as they’re not important) is picked for Weekend Live. Almost everyone in the group has auditioned; Birbiglia keeps talking about how he was “inches away” one time. But Key’s ambition is obvious, and he’s not afraid to violate the rules of improv to showcase himself. And it works, and he apologizes for it. His departure changes things for the group, but it’s not the only thread that’s being pulled on — Chris Gethard’s father has a serious accident is in the hospital, so he leaves to take care of him. Kate Micucci has a graphic novel she’s delayed finishing for 9 years, even though she won a “most potential graphic artist” award in high school. And even Birbiglia, who’s the core of the group, finds he suddenly has a chance to pursue a serious relationship and a family, and he decides to take it.

Things get pretty dark as the group unravels, and people say things to each other they’re definitely going to regret. A great strength of Don’t Think Twice is that all of the characters feel vividly drawn and real; this is a true ensemble comedy, and you really do see the way certain events have different effects on each of them. The first time I watched this movie, I wasn’t sure at all that I liked it — it’s certainly funny, but because it’s about a community falling apart, I felt depressed by it.

But the second time through, I saw how Birbiglia was wisely, quietly drawing a connection between improv and the bonds that form amongst a community of friends over time. Like improv, community chemistry is a delicate, transient thing; it’s something you can create intentionally, but not something you can bottle up and hang on to forever.  Keegan-Michael Key’s greatest sin against his friends is when recreates a bit from an previous improv session on Weekend Live; he tries to manufacture something that was created spontaneously. I think the chemistry in a community of friends is like that: it really can’t last very long, and when it starts to fall apart, trying to keep it together, trying to recover what was great, just hastens its demise. It’s the nature of the thing —  constantly changing, morphing, going through highs and lows, times of great laughter and times of no laughter at all.

Of course that doesn’t mean that friendships can’t last, and the film acknowledges that. It ends with a reunion at a funeral, and it’s clear they’ve made up, but also that they’ve moved on. That time in their lives is over, and they’ll never really return to it. Mourning it is pointless; remembering it with more than a bit of nostalgia, cherishing it, and looking for the next magical things that might happen is what life is all about.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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