What’s most ironic about Saturday Night Live is that almost everyone agrees that its best days are far behind it and it seems like a relic in an era of YouTube and social media, yet nearly any young comedian would still do just about anything to be a castmember of SNL. For all its flaws, SNL still has the prestige of being the big dance of comedy. In Don’t Think Twice, comedian/filmmaker Mike Birbiglia (Sleepwalk With Me) envisions what happens to a small-time New York City improv troupe when some of the group’s members start getting attention from the producers of Weekend Live (i.e., SNL) and others are forced to realize they just don’t have it despite all their hard work.
Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), Miles (Mike Birbiglia), Allison (Kate Micucci), Lindsay (Tami Sagher), Bill (Chris Gethard) and Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) are The Commune, an improv comedy troupe who are talented and work hard. However, they all have menial day jobs to support themselves and almost all live together in a loft in Brooklyn that is better suited for college students than adults inching closer to their fortieth birthdays. Their friendships are obviously deep, and they cope with a variety of real-life issues by laughing them off. But it’s clear that each group member envisions something better for themselves, and much of their jealous energy is targeted at Weekend Live, which they all rip on as unfunny while at the same time all want to be part of as actors or writers (Miles, in particular, is fixated on how he “almost” was hired as a castmember 12 years earlier). One night the troupe finds out that producers of Weekend Live are coming to scout them, and two group members are offered auditions for the show. What follows is a total breakdown of The Commune as jealousy, envy, and backstabbing turns friends against each other. At the same time, the remaining members find out that the theater that they perform at is closing, making them reconsider what each of their futures hold.
What I enjoyed most about Don’t Think Twice is how true-to-life the film deals with professional jealousy between colleagues. Anyone in any workplace environment can find something to relate to with those conflicts when one person gets more recognition than another. The competition between the six members of The Commune is natural to any workplace, but is even more heightened in the arts when talent can often trump work ethic. The fact of the matter is it’s sometimes difficult to see others succeed when you are failing and it’s easy to attack that other person than to admit your own faults.
With that said, Birbiglia ends the film too sweetly for my taste. Cruel as it may sound, I enjoyed seeing the dynamics of the group break down in a sort-of Lord of the Flies kind of way because we’re looking at a group of thirtysomethings who are frustrated that their skill levels don’t match their personal ambitions. These six characters have some deep-rooted jealousy issues and say — and do — some very nasty things to one another. I know friendships can go through a lot, but I felt it was a bit of a cop-out instead of going for something with more of an impact. There is also a tangent storyline with Miles and an old friend named Liz (Maggie Kemper) that doesn’t seem to fit because out of all of The Commune members, Miles is perhaps the most arrogant and mean-spirited when he doesn’t get his way. I’d hate to think that Birbiglia gave his character a break since he wrote and directed the film, but it was the least interesting of all the characters’ individual storylines and yet received a great deal of the focus.
With Sleepwalk With Me and Don’t Think Twice, Birbiglia has demonstrated he has the skill to tell an interesting story about the trials of trying to make it in comedy, and both are must-see for anyone interested in pursuing a career as a comedian even though the films both have flaws in how the narrative progresses.