Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Don't Think Twice: Movie Review

Funny people being funny - and then success comes knocking.

Don’t Think Twice takes a concept that is difficult to articulate in a fair and easy-to-watch manner, and it makes it funny. It centers around a six-member improv comedy group in NYC performing in front of small to medium sized crowds in a theatre about to close down, all the while hoping to make it big. Only one of them lands everybody’s dream job – as a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live (but actually called Weekend Live).   2016

Directed by: Mike Birbiglia

Screenplay by: Mike Birbiglia

Starring: Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs

The film features six funny actors playing six funny characters performing funny improv sketches. The highlight is definitely the comedy; many of the jokes had me laughing out loud. Because these actors are comedians in real life and enjoy what they do, that genuine funniness and pleasure in making audiences laugh comes through in their characters. The comedy doesn’t drive the entire movie; most of the time is spent exploring group dynamics and individual responses to success and how to achieve it.

The group dynamic is very well explored theoretically. The film opens with the characters giving a rundown on how improv works and how it works well. The key is of course the group. You want to agree and build off of what the previous person just said, and give them an opening so they can build off what you just said. You want to give everybody their opportunity to shine as well as your own, but don’t hog the spotlight, and you’ve got to have each others’ backs. The movie is essentially these six people able to achieve all of that in an improv theater but struggling when it comes to real life.

The group makes it known that Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) occasionally hogs the spotlight, but he does have some good impersonations (his Obama is fantastic). Jack and his girlfriend Sam (Gillian Jacobs) both get auditions (the other four do not); Sam doesn’t go to hers but Jack gets the gig. There’s one scene here which screenwriter Mike Birbiglia handled extremely well. One member received bad news and while the other three were consoling him, Sam and Jack got their good news. At this point, most films (especially comedies), want to make Sam and Jack unaware of their friend and come in all happy and then awkward. Screenwriter Mike Birbiglia made a much smarter choice: Sam and Jack were able to read the concern on their friends’ faces before they said anything stupid (stupidity can come later). Despite being really funny, these characters aren’t just here for jokes, they are also supposed to represent real people.

The film doesn’t fall apart when Jack finds his success, but the strain it puts on the group slows down the film and dampens the enjoyment. An inability to give each character their due (or perhaps it’s some actors outshining others) winds up giving the film only a few characters to care about – and most of them have let success or jealousy of success get to their head.

Gillian Jacobs does a fantastic job with Sam. She had a complete character arc, and handled the dramatic elements of the film just as well as the comedic highs. Mike Birbiglia’s Miles was a well-written character and he delivered most of his lines hilariously, as did Keegan-Michael Key, but the development of their characters wasn’t as enjoyable as one might hope.

The comedy to Don’t Think Twice is incredibly witty and intelligent and so funny and weaves in a difficult concept to play out parallel in both comedy sketches and real life. It is impressive and enjoyable but at the same time I didn’t care about the characters as much as I would have liked.