The magic of movies has always been their ability to transport audiences to new realities. But sometimes the best kind of movie magic is when a film captures a familiar reality so perfectly for so many that those viewers will feel like their own stories were shared with the world. For anyone who has pursued a creative position in the entertainment world – especially actors – Don’t Think Twice is your story told in a very convincing and honest way. For everyone else, this movie is merely a fun flick with funny people being funny with just enough drama to keep the story interesting. And that isn’t a bad way to spend an hour and a half.
The Commune is a six-person improv troupe in New York that performs well and draws a full house every night. While the group has great chemistry, assuring each other that they “got your back” before every performance, individually, they all hope for a shot at joining the cast of Weekend Live, which is a late-night sketch comedy show. When one of group, Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), actually makes it, his success sends ripples through the group, causing deep-seated fears and resentments to bubble to the top.
One of the more interesting aspects of Don’t Think Twice is that it is simultaneously a story about a group but also about individuals. So while it would be tempting to simply follow Jack’s story and have his improv cast-mates become supporting characters, the film wisely gives appropriate time to everyone to show different perspectives from within the struggling performer’s world. Miles (Mike Birbiglia) is the aging actor who’s missed his shot and has turned to teaching improv. Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) is comfortable in her place as an unknown entertainer and isn’t ready to leave it. Lindsay (Tami Sagher) lives at home and is able to join the group without wondering how to make rent. Bill (Chris Gethard), on the other hand, works a crappy job handing out samples in a grocery store and has a father who disapproves of his life choices. Allison (Kate Micucci) is probably the least confident of the group, and her self-doubt causes her to scrap promising ideas and delay the completion of her personal passion project. Finally, there’s Jack, who is full of ambition and eager to get his career going.
What makes this so engrossing, especially for people who have attempted to break into the entertainment business, is that while Don’t Think Twice is ostensibly about multiple people, it’s really about one person – the generic actor – as represented by multiple characters. Each member of the improv group represents a stage in many actor’s journeys. What struggling actor hasn’t relied on parents for support? When that ran out, what actor hasn’t worked a crappy job for the flexibility to get to auditions or make gigs? And any actor understands what it’s like to simply enjoy the craft and be content; just as they also know the ambition and the call of larger audiences. Sadly, too many actors also know what it’s like to second guess your own abilities and what it means to be past your prime and to watch those around you succeed where you failed. There is a lot of truth on display, and nothing is more interesting to watch than the truth.
Beyond the appeal to creative types in the entertainment industry, Don’t Think Twice is also just a good movie with strong performances throughout. Keegan-Michael Key’s comedic chops are on full display and it’s obvious why he’s probably the best known of the entire cast and why his character, Jack, earns a spot on Weekend Live. He’s just a naturally funny guy with great instincts. Additionally, when the improv group gets together to perform, it’s hard not to marvel at the magic that transpires when comedy is drawn from the ether. Of course, as a film, it’s all scripted, but even that is refreshing in its own way.
Modern comedies often feel too improvised – like the director just gave the actors a goal and some guidelines to get there, and then turned on the camera. You can tell when this is happening because the actors lose their characters’ unique qualities as they riff and reach for gags and bits. That doesn’t happen here. Audiences will definitely feel like some care and thought went into the scripted story and humor, which is ironic for a film about improv.