PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

'Don't Think Twice' Is a Frustratingly Accurate Exploration of Selfishness

Mike Birbiglia's second feature maintains audience engagement despite its frequently unlikable characters


Don't Think Twice

Director: Mike Birbiglia
Cast: Mike Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs
Length: 92 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 2016
US Release Date: 2016-07-22
Website
Trailer

Attending a college in the middle of rural Ohio proved problematic when I became a film major. The closest town's theater was difficult to access without a personal vehicle, but I managed to convince my parents to let me keep the family mini-van on campus sophomore year. When the nearby cinema, which only screened the most widely released projects, didn't suffice, my friends and I looked elsewhere -- one of them happened to be obsessed with stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia when his debut film, Sleepwalk With Me, was released.

We stuffed ourselves into my Honda Odyssey, and made the more than 50-mile drive to Columbus. Though a memorable night, I returned six hours later with mixed feelings about the movie. As a 19-year-old, it was difficult to relate to Birbiglia's middle-aged crises, but I respected the authenticity and relished his dark humor.

Nearly four years later, I consequently approached my screening of his sophomore effort, Don't Think Twice, with mild anxiety. The film follows six improv artists in New York City, known together as The Commune, who desire to perform on the late-night show Weekend Live (a jab throughout at Saturday Night Live). When one is finally cast, each member suffers through a character-driven crisis, causing the group to fracture, and threatening its existence altogether. The film stars Birbiglia himself, as well as Keegan-Michael Key (Keanu, Key and Peele) and Gillian Jacobs (Community, Girls). Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci and Tami Sagher round out the ensemble.

Birbiglia makes clear the questions with which he's reckoning from the onset with a monologue from Sam (Jacobs) that explains the three universal rules of improv comedy: say yes, it's all about the group, and don't think. The filmmaker stems drama by transferring these stage laws to real life and then breaking them. The most striking is Birbiglia's divergence from the second rule, as his exploration of selfishness is so exactingly executed that it becomes challenging to side with some of the characters; this is a cold world where everyday people masquerade affections for others as tactics of self-preservation. Though each character exhibits this over arching theme to varying degrees, it unfortunately does not exclusively run inversely to each character's likability, but also corollary to their screen time.

This is most true of Miles (Birbiglia), who's at his most sympathetic in a brief moment of self-observation: [paraphrased from memory] "When you look at me, I know what you see, but I want to be better than that." Scenes like these are few and far between, as he is too often oblivious to his self-serving nature, and his development suffers for it, but Miles is not the only one who fails to truly evolve by the end.

Jack (Key) spends most of his screen time ignoring personal reflection while ascending to friendship-ending fame, or suffocating the only remaining character that receives equal screen time to the aforementioned -- his girlfriend, Sam (Jacobs). Therefore, Don't Think Twice finds itself in a room with a claustrophobically low ceiling, and the writer-director still appears a film or two away from discovering the tool in his bag that will break through it.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons to believe that he will. Sam showcases a slew of upbeat characters that become tiresome just in time for an audition with Weekend Life, when her decision not to attend -- a disobedience of the first rule of improv -- causes her to reevaluate her dreams. What follows is a revealing of insecurities and doubts in relatable layers that satisfy increasingly throughout, dissolving her façade of happiness to reveal a conflicted core. In just 92 minutes, Jacobs provides a character arc more rewarding than the aforementioned and finds the bridge from beloved NBC sitcom character to complex film role, last crossed this successfully by Steve Carell -- hopefully, she explores the newfound territory in years to come.

Bill (Gethard) is also rather enjoyable, but his lack of screen time is disappointing, even if justifiable; he struggles to process a death, and is something of a sedated sore thumb in this world full of character, vitality and nuanced life. With her storm of self-worth issues, Allison (Micucci) finds herself similarly pushed to the periphery, in part because she's too close of a retread to Sam, though she would be more likely to be found punishing herself than in a state of melancholic reflection. Rationalizing the underdevelopment of Lindsay (Sagher), a middle-aged stoner living with her parents, proves more confounding; the hope here is that Birbiglia's never been a truly depressed pothead, and thus mines a shallower well for material.

The result is a bovarysme that crescendos before crashing into a final scene that so inexplicably spoon-feeds into the credits it becomes difficult not to question the idiosyncratic genuineness of the 85 minutes before it. Don't Think Twice's weapon of choice, then, is a double-edged sword: stimulating from both sides, but guaranteed to provide as much pleasure as it does pain. Its greatest achievement, though, is its refusal to let the viewer abide by the third rule of improv: don't think. Birbiglia breaks his ultimate rule and transcends the title in a film that promises to have viewers thinking about it multiple times in the days that follow.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.