Don’t Think Twice: The Spotlight’s Not For Everyone, and Neither is This Movie
I had absolutely no interest in seeing a film about improv artists. Especially one cast with a bunch of virtual no-names led by a some-what known Keegan-Michael Key. I find the man very likable, but I have an aversion to improv – only because it’s usually very painful to watch. Email after email appeared in my in box about various screening opportunities and I still had no interest. In fact, it wasn’t until I received notice of a press luncheon that involved a beer and wine tasting that I reconsidered my position on improv. Needless to say, I was suddenly very interested. I’ll admit it was the promise of free food and alcohol that got me to make the trek from Riverside to Hollywood, but I’m glad I did. Now, it’s not as if I discovered some amazing film that spoke to the creative spirit in all of us. No. You’d have to be a struggling artist of some type to really get the significance of this film. But Don’t Think Twice is entertaining as long as you don’t set your expectations too high. It offers an amusing inside look at the struggles of those scraping to survive at the fringes of the entertainment industry, even if it does offer an all too convenient ending.
Set in New York City, Don’t Think Twice portrays a group of six improv players as fun loving friends who have been working together so long and know each other so well that even making fun of a members dying father’s speech impediment is not off limits (the moment is actually quite funny and extremely well delivered by Tami Sagher). The main dramatic question for these lovable imps seems to be whether or not any of them will “make it” and be successful. Initially, success means landing a coveted spot on the long running TV comedy sketch show, “Weekend Live” (I guess they couldn’t get permission to use the name Saturday Night Live). The improv group is very good at what they do, and have a full audience at every one of their immensely popular shows, but is that enough? Should it be enough? Or should they want more? And is more a true barometer of success? These questions are placed at the forefront when two of the friends (Key and Gillian Jacobs) are chosen to audition for the revered television show. The “aging” thirty-somethings suddenly begin to question their talents and the validity of their pursuits, ultimately coming to terms with what success means to each of them.
Sounds nice. And it is nice. The performances are nice, and the film leaves you with an overall nice feeling. However, the niceness leaves little room for any real conflict. There’s a passing mention of losing the theater space they’ve been in for years, but there doesn’t seem to be any concern wasted on it. There’s animosity toward the two who have been chosen to audition by the other four, but that’s simple petty, professional jealousy. And there’s resentment from the group toward the member who is independently wealthy, but other than accusing her of having nothing at stake it goes nowhere (come to think of it, why didn’t she save their theater space?). But other than a peevish moment outside of a club where harsh words are exchanged, there’s nothing really at risk in the story, and ultimately everything is resolved all too cleanly. I’m not looking for Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman or Chekov’s Uncle Vanya, but a closer look at the real struggles of these characters would have been for more interesting, even in a comedy. What little time is spent on the awkward, insecurity of two characters (Kate Micucci and Chris Gethard) is really intriguing. I would have liked more of that, and less of the all too pleasant break of the two involved characters.
It all comes down to the inexperience of writer and director, Mike Birbiglia, whose own character as it happens was the only one fully fleshed out. He seems to have been too nice in his writing and way too nice in his directing. Comedy needs some drama. Without it, you’ve got something more suited for a family friendly cable station (not that’s anything wrong with that) and not a movie theater.