Mike Birbiglia's feature film, Sleepwalk With Me, was an impressive debut—and his sophomore film, Don't Think Twice, is stronger. Few directors pull that off, and Birbiglia's writing also seems stronger this time. I wasn't completely convinced that Birbiglia, being a stand-up comedian, was committed to directing films, but I am after Don't Think Twice.
|"The kid stays in the pictures"|
You could contribute this to a bold choice for an actor/writer/director: he's not really the star this time. While he's fully present in the movie, it's first an ensemble cast. Initially tempted to declare Keegan-Michael Key's Jack the main character, I decided that this wasn't the case. It's closer to a three-way split between Key, Gillian Jacobs's Sam, and Birbiglia's Miles. Each shows their own palpable need for attention and belonging, to different degrees, and talents and drive to fulfill those needs.
The cast rounds out with excellent performances from two underutilized and always welcome actors, Chris Gethard (Bill) and Kate Micucci (Allison), and an actor new to me, Tami Sagher (Lindsay). Bonus points if you spot Richard “Larry from Three's Company” Kline!
|Kate Micucci being adorable. Chris Gethard for scale.|
The improv group, The Commune, gels convincingly into a familial unit. They appear to know one another inside and out. I absolutely never expected the improv performances to be so good. They tag in and out with near-perfect timing, seemingly practiced for years. I find improv the jam band of comedy. If it's great, it can be enjoyable. If it's really good, it's tolerable. Anything else makes me want to leave the room to varying degrees of irritation.
Every improver's ultimate ambition is to be cast in a perfectly titled “fuck it, you all know what we're talking about” TV show, Weekend Live. The tension in the film starts here: two members of The Commune are called for auditions, and one is cast. Resentment and insecurity start to fracture the family in which they've entrenched themselves, and the comfort it provided starts rapidly eroding. Why wasn't it me? is the question posed by the rest of the troupe. Writing packets are scrabbled together to get on the show, taking advantage of their new connection, and awkward rejections and pressures on the newly-risen star, stemming from landing Weekend Live, crack the group further.
This act includes a particularly impressively written scene between two of the troupe. Birbiglia pulls off something I generally hate, the “we're not talking about the thing we're talking about” screenwriting 101 scene. This sort of writing usually comes off as forced and jars me out of the film, but an emotional scene acted out in improv (something I never expected to write) uses this trope to perfection.
Birbiglia's film is ultimately about family, though, and how one perseveres in its hard times. When they fight, they fight like family, attacking the most vulnerable spots that others know only if you let them get that close. You hurt each other and heal each other. When needed, you're there for each other, and that's what happens with The Commune. Spoiler: they come out through the other side. Relationships change, goals change, lives change, but the family survives. I highly recommend the film.