Don’t Think Twice (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): Comedy is hard….

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I know it is a cliché to say “dying is easy, comedy is hard”, but I could not help but think of that phrase as watching the struggling improvisational comedy group members in “Don’t Think Twice”, which is both funny and insightful in its witty, heartfelt depiction of their daily aspiration and frustration. Sure, they are mostly funny people as far as I can see, but most of them may never get a breakthrough they have yearned for years, and they now have to face that fact as changes come into their work and life.

After we are told a bit about improvisational theater and its three golden rules, we see how the members of an improvisational comedy group called ‘The Commune’ prepare themselves before their latest evening performance. Headed by Miles (Mike Birbiglia), they fluidly interact with each other in their improvisational sketch on the stage, and the easy rapport among them is evident as they entertain the audiences with their quick, sharp delivery of improvised lines.

But their situation is not so good despite the positive responses from their audiences. While he is the most experienced member in the group, Miles has not gotten any chance to advance his career for many years, and neither have his colleagues. They already passed their 20s, and most of them still depend on day jobs they do not like much. In addition, their usual theater in Brooklyn will be soon closed, and that means they will have to find another place for their performance.

We get to know them bit by bit as observing their daily life. Miles has earned his living through his improvisational comedy class, and he is dating one of his students. While Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), who once attended Miles’ class, is currently living with Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), Lindsay (Tami Sagher) has relied on her wealthy parents, and Allison (Kate Micucci) occasionally works on her graphic novel which has not been finished for years. In case of Bill (Chris Gethard), it may be prudent of him to follow his father’s suggestion instead of pursuing his dream, but he adamantly sticks to what he loves although he looks like the least likely one to succeed in the group.

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During one evening, there comes a possible big chance for them. The producers of Weekend Live, which is clearly a fictional version of Saturday Night Live, come to see their performance, so they are ready to try their best, but then the spotlight eventually goes to Jack, who cannot resist a chance to show off himself in the middle of their performance. Not long after the performance, Jack is invited to the audition along with Samantha, who also showed some considerable potential during that performance.

Everyone is happy for Jack’s lucky opportunity and they become more excited when he is hired thanks to his successful audition, but this also brings considerable shifts into the group. As more focusing on Weekend Live with his more prominent status, Jack slowly begins to drift away from the group, and the other members of the group cannot help but be envious of his little success, as reminded again of how miserable they have been with their small hopes which may never be fulfilled. At one point, one of them says: “I feel like your 20s are all about hope, and then your 30s are all about realizing how dumb it was to hope.”

While honestly recognizing their frustration and bitterness through such melancholic moments like that, the movie delightfully bounces along its loose narrative flow as driven by the dynamic interactions between its main characters. Their performance scenes spark with joyous spontaneity, and these scenes never feel repetitive or perfunctory as providing good laughs for us. As your average seasoned comedians, Miles and his gangs seldom pass by any chance to be funny even when they are not on the stage, and that amusing tendency of theirs is exemplified well by when they bring out some laughs from one very unfortunate accident.

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The movie also shows a surprising amount of sensitivity in several personal moments shown from some of its main characters. When Miles receives a surprise news from his latest girlfriend who is also his old flame, her decision on that news sharply reminds him that he is no longer young as before. Although Bill’s father does not regard highly of his son’s profession, he respects his son’s choice, and Bill cares about his father even though they are not that close to each other. As Jack advances more with his career, the relationship between Jack and Samantha is inevitably affected by that change, and there is a poignant scene where they truthfully and sincerely interact with each other in front of the audiences.

With their vibrant chemistry on the screen, the director/writer Mike Birbiglia and his co-performers effortlessly swing back and forth between drama and comedy. While Keegan-Michael Key naturally draws more attention from us considering his showy character as well as his current rising career outside the movie, the other main cast members are equally engaging as having each own moment, and there are also a couple of entertaining cameo appearances to notice.

As a comedy about a specific type of people, “Don’t Think Now” can be alien to you if you are not so familiar with improvisational comedy (Full disclosure: I am not either), but you can enjoy its bouncy comic spirit while getting to know more about its interesting main subject. Comedy is indeed hard and so is life – but they go on anyway as reaching for those precious laughs.

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