Don’t Think Twice
by Cat McAlpine
The three rules of improv are as follows:
1. Say yes
2. It’s all about the group
3. Don’t think
The six members of improv troupe The Commune live, bend, and break these rules on stage and in the green room in Don’t Think Twice. The ensemble dramedy pits the dreams of your 20s against the hard realities of your 30s and asks: When is it okay to be about me?
With the self-awareness of an improv performance, Don’t Think Twice keeps it real and stays grounded. The most recognizable face in the cast, Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele), plays Jack, the guy with a real shot at stardom. Samantha (Community’s Gillian Jacobs), has the skill but not the desire while Miles (Mike Birbiglia, who also wrote and directed) refuses to accept that he just doesn’t have what it takes.
Don’t Think Twice is intentional in its choices that way, inviting the audience to arrive with whatever context they can. Birbiglia never lets the drama spiral too low, either, immediately scooping you up again with jokes and laughter. The Commune develops several inside jokes throughout the course of the film, meaning you’re not only in on it, you understand how this sort of family keeps laughing even when life stops being funny.
At the beginning of each Commune show, Samantha asks “Did anyone have a particularly difficult day?” The ironic part, as most actors and improvisers will tell you, is that the best place to work through your own intimate problems is on stage in front of an audience.
We see this mechanism in action quite beautifully throughout this film, as Birbiglia uses the show-inside-a-show format to explore many themes.
His most powerful visual element, for instance, is the staging of chairs. Before each performance starts, the cast chairs are arranged onstage. In prepping for the performance, all the chairs are lined up neatly in a row, and if a performer is missing their chair is removed. The improvisers drag these chairs across the stage as needed throughout their performance, with the point being there is a chair for each of them. This literal setting of the stage underscores the narrative’s emotional current, and becomes a strong indicator of mood. “Hey, we’re about to work through some shit, and here’s exactly what we’re working with.”
Don’t Think Twice is a film that takes an honest look at “making it” from all sides. It challenges the notions of success and fame, and suggests that it’s okay to love doing something even if you never want to be famous for it.
If you’re invited to go see Don’t Think Twice this weekend, reply “Yes, and…”