Don’t Think Twice isn’t quite a misfire, but it’s still a bit disappointing after such a promising start. The first half hour or so felt as if it was setting up the best, most original comedy of 2016. Eventually, Don’t Think Twice settled for “existential crisis about adult-ing in New York” territory so “by the numbers” that I was amazed Lena Dunham hadn’t shown up…until Lena Dunham actually showed up. After accepting that Don’t Think Twice wasn’t nearly as ambitious as it initially appeared to be, I just enjoyed that I was—at least—getting to spend time with funny actors whom I generally like.
Director Mike Birbiglia’s follow-up to his much better debut film Sleepwalk With Me is another “dramedy,” told in a similarly loose style. But the approach feels stiff the second time around. Don’t Think Twice explores the fallout after one member of a struggling improv comedy group becomes an official cast member at the film’s immaculate riff on Saturday Night Live. The show itself, called “Weekend Live,” feels like another character in the ensemble, and it’s such a perfect parody that I was awed by the sheer precision. The rest of the characters are more hit and miss.
Birbiglia plays Miles, the typical schlub who never made it big so now he fills the void by teaching improv classes and sleeping with his students. Miles’ presence in a film like Don’t Think Twice feels obligatory, and it’s made worse as his arc gradually become more and more unconvincing. He probably should have been left out of the film. Allison (Kate Micucci), Lindsay (Tami Sagher) and Bill (Chris Gethard) are the lesser members of the improv group. They’re given some stuff to do and, sure, they generate enough laughs to justify their inclusions. Actors with great comedic timing keep the characters afloat, but I never felt like any of them were actually friends.
The best parts of Don’t Think Twice are Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) and Jack (Keegan-Michael Key). Samantha is the most talented of the group, although Jack is the one who ends up landing a spot at Weekend Live. It’s no surprise when their romantic relationship is hurt by opposite career trajectories, but they still manage to be the heart of the film. Jacobs and Key are so good that I wish Don’t Think Twice had dropped the rest of the ensemble and just focused on them. As hard as the film tries to create a documentary vibe, they’re the only characters that feel like real people.
Obviously, this is a pretty lukewarm recommendation. By the end, though, Don’t Think Twice is funny enough—and Jacobs and Keys are endearing enough—to be worth your time. It’s not the seminal “love letter” to improv comedy that Birbiglia so clearly wants it to be, but the first act is killer and the entire film is still funnier than most of the cheap improv shows that I’ve been to. That’s something, I guess.
Grade = B-