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The Independent Critic

Mike Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Key, Chris Gethard, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, and Tami Sagher
Mike Birbiglia
Rated R
92 Mins.
The Film Arcade

 "Don't Think Twice" a Funny, Authentic Look at More than Comedy 

The second feature film from real life comic Mike Birbiglia, Don't Think Twice is one of 2016's under-the-radar gems, a film so damn brilliant and so damn authentic that it seems almost destined to be ignored come awards season despite unquestionably being one of the year's true cinematic bright spots. 

More drama than comedy despite being set squarely in the world of improv comedy, Don't Think Twice is one of the richest and most authentic films to find its life within this world and the result is just over 90 minutes of sublime, understated cinema. The film possesses a sense of melancholy that permeates every fiber of its being, a melancholy borne out of a life constantly lived on the edge of poverty, a life lived constantly lived outside the radar of that word "success," and a life lived constantly watching someone else get that big opportunity. 

In the film, Birbiglia is Miles, the founder of an improv ensemble known as The Commune, an improve troupe/school existing in a rundown building in Lower Manhattan where small but loyal audiences applaud wildly while enjoying the $5 shows provided by the tight ensemble (including Chris Gethard, Tami Sagher, and Garfunkel and Oates's Kate Micucci) where the magnetic Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) and his girlfriend and fellow troupe member Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) seem destined for the stardom that has long evaded the quietly bitter Miles. The inevitable happens when both Jack and Samantha are invited to audition for Weekend Live, an obvious stand-in for a familiar sketch comedy show, a show for which Miles had long ago auditioned and been rejected. 

Birbiglia masterfully captures the improv vibe, an interesting experience in a form of comedy where you're completely and utterly dependent upon one another while simultaneously hoping for some sort of break that will give life to greater comedy success. Rather than displaying the improv world most of us know, think Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Birbiglia captures a more intimate side of the experience with both the successes and the struggles brought to life with refreshing honesty. 

The film soars precisely because the ensemble convinces. Birbiglia's Miles, who finds meaning mostly in successfully bedding his much younger female students, projects that sort of uncomfortable bitterness that always seems to surface when the teacher becomes the student or, quite simply, one discovers that the student is just plain more talented than the teacher. As that former student turned potential star, Keegan-Michael Key offers up his most satisfying and winning cinematic performance to date. Key's Jack is a somewhat hesitant star who is even more hesitant to flaunt his newfound success. The film's emotional tour-de-force performance comes from a rather remarkable Gillian Jacobs, whose ambivalence toward success is balanced in ways that brought me to tears toward the film's end. 

Don't Think Twice is a realistic film with a realism that elicits laughter and tears, triumphs and challenges along the way. It's that rare ensemble film where every member of the ensemble is brought fully to life courtesy of Birbiglia's nothing short of extraordinary script. It's the kind of film you'll sit there watching and even while the closing credits are rolling you'll find yourself wanting to watch it all over again. It's one of 2016's best films. 

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic