Don’t Think Twice (which has nothing to do with Bob Dylan) is such a cathartic tear-jerker it even got to its own director. A few people sitting near Mike Birbiglia for the SXSW premiere reported that the comedian and second-time film director had a noticeably shiny face during the climactic scene, an emotional moment between two characters played by Keegan-Michael Key and Gillian Jacobs. Normally a scene like this might seem phony, or out of touch — get a hold of yourself, man, it’s just a movie! one you’ve probably seen 30 times, no less! — but in this case, Birbiglia’s reaction seemed not only earned, but reassuring. At least I wasn’t the only one feeling like I’d been punched in the stomach.
I knocked Keanu for not getting personal enough, but the other movie starring Key playing at SXSW is the flip side of that, a comedy so real you occasionally yearn for fakery. Birbiglia’s follow-up to 2012’s Sleepwalk With Me follows an improv troupe — wait, where are you going, come back and read the rest of this review I worked really hard on it! — trying to deal with the stresses of success, failure, jealousy, relationships, trying to get on SNL, and aging. I can understand being resistant to seeing it after reading that, but it’s not a “sad clown” movie, and thank God. Dear comedian, no one wants to go inside your process, or hear what deep thoughts and childhood turmoil those dick jokes are disguising, I promise. No, Don’t Think Twice is just a straightforward depiction of a certain kind of lifestyle, as told by someone who understands it. Trying to make jokes for a living? It’s a bitch, man. As Birbiglia explained during the post-screening Q & A, art is socialism, life is capitalism. That’s the central conflict of Don’t Think Twice.
Birbiglia cast his real improv pal Chris Gethard alongside himself, Key, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, and Gillian Jacobs as members of an improv group who basically are to Don’t Think Twice what The Wonders were to That Thing You Do! The cast runs the gamut from primarily comedian/improvisers like Gethard and Birbiglia to non-comedian actors like Micucci and Jacobs. (Sagher, meanwhile, is not only a big deal in improv but also wrote the “3 Buttholes” episode of Inside Amy Schumer, fun fact.) You’d never suspect their disparate backgrounds in the final product, though, an ensemble symphony without a sour note. It feels like this cast’s been working together for years. They do fake improv scenes that are not only funny, but feel improvised, the acting/directing degree of difficulty of which must be on par with juggling salamanders.