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9.12.2016

Don't Think Twice

"Your 20s are all about hope, and then your 30s are all about how dumb it was to hope."  In this
idealized look at the creative life, writer/director Mike Birbiglia poses that raw, pure improv is intrinsically ephemeral, contradicting a more conceivable claim that he made in his first movie Sleepwalk With Me.


Don't Think Twice follows a cast of improv characters who perform at a theater in New York City.    Miles (Birbiglia), the 36 year old leader, teaches improv during the week and has a habit of sleeping with his 22-year old students in his dorm-like apartment.  The other improv cast, played by Keegan Michael-Key, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Chris Gethard, and Tami Sagher, he fleshes out in fun, deftly interwoven vignettes.  Stealithy ambitious Jack (Michael-Key) lands a spot on the "Weekend Live" (a fictionalized "Saturday Night Life") after he bombards an improv sketch with a one man-show in order to impress casting agents in the audience.  Samantha (Jacobs), a restaurant hostess during the day, is also selected to audition for "Weekend Live", but bails on her audition at the last minute in a moment of existential crisis.  Allison (Micucci), an illustrator as well as comic, demonstrates real talent but lacks the volition to compile a portfolio.  Bill (Gethard) struggles with a father who never accepted him as an artist.  Yet, working as a grocery store clerk, he clings to his ability to kill on stage as it's the only respectful identity he feels he has.  Lindsay (Sagher), about 30 years old, still lives with her parents in their Manhattan brownstone and attend counseling twice a week, also paid by her parents.
These believable and diverse comics are fun to watch on screen. They add levity to a hospital visit to Bill's critically injured father, mimicking him saying "thank you"--a joke that's recalled throughout the film.  They're a supportive, family like group of artists, frequently attending parties at Birbiglia's and commiserating on their lives together at the local bar.

Ambition, success, money and responsibilities eventually force this group to disband.  The demands of Jack's new job at "Weekend Live" require that he quit the group.  Their theater shuts down and they move to a more expensive theater where ticket sales decline and they are in the red.  Birbiglia finds himself maturing into the role of a father and having to leave town.

Tragically, life thwarts the artist's ability to practice his/her craft.  Yet, demonstrated by Bibrgilia juxtaposing the improv group's original, unambitious comedy with the cheesy, sickeningly banal performances on "Weekend Live", this pure comedy is the real deal. (choke choke)
Julliard-educated Gillian Jacobs's performance shines and she's the character who best demonstrates this idealism.  Dressed as always in hipster overalls, in her delibrations after the missed autition, we see the question Birbiglia drives at; can this real craft of comedy be preserved?  "I like my life how it is right now," she tells Jack.  "You can't do improv forever ok, it just....it ends," he responds.  In the scene where Miles' adopted son is born, Samantha says in voiceover that improv is like being in a plane while in the air; it's beautiful but then it passes.

Remember Joan River's card catalog of jokes from her documentary A Piece of Work--the thousands of jokes she'd sweated blood to collect, write and organize over her career?  Of course it's tempting idealize creativity (isn't a child chasing butterfly through a meadow of daisies more beautiful than anything VanGogh ever painted?), and almost a cliche to say that creativity can't be taught, it's inherent.  However, as every successful artist (excluding the charmed Jimmy Fallon) would attest, creative success is only achieved after years of relentles tenacity and hard work, of "slogging through the muck", to quote writer Melissa Bank.  Birbiglia himself, in his first movie Sleepwalk with Me, states that in order for a stand up comic to be successful, he needs to go thorugh several years where he's dreck, but where he convinces himself that he's killing.  For creativity to thrive requires a refusal to give in and a willingness to surmount obstacles.  And this final form, the fruit of the artist's perseverance, is often much more developed and profound than any of his earlier work--consider, for example, this 1992 Sarah Silverman performance

On Charlie Rose the other night Birbiglia states, "The truth about show business I think is that you can't have a plan B."  As much as I love Don't Think Twice--the writing, and the casting, and execution of this story--I'm not buying it's message.  And neither, quite frankly, is Birbiglia.  


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