Actor Edmund Gwenn once said, "Dying is easy. Comedy is difficult," and his thoughts have been proven to be accurate time and time again. Nowhere is this more readily acknowledged than in the work of Mike Birbiglia, a really funny man who's shown that life is difficult, which is why it's frequently so funny. With Don't Think Twice serving as his second "triple threat" film, Birbiglia manages to tell a simple story with complex characters. It's as refreshing as you'd think, especially considering the cast he's assembled to play these characters.
The Commune is a tightly knit improv troupe facing hard times. With their theater about to close, the group has one more problem to worry about on top of all of their other personal issues. Bill (Chris Gethard) and Allison (Kate Micucci) are trying to become an effective writing team, Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) and Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) are working on keeping their relationship together, Lindsay (Tami Sagher) is not really wanting for much, and Miles (Mike Birbiglia) is staring down the possibility of growing up. As if that wasn't bad enough, one of The Commune's members becomes a member of the SNL surrogate, Weekend Live, which prompts the rest of the group to react in varying ways.
Don't Think Twice is Birbiglia's meditation on the modern world of comedy, with the indie roots of improv being pitted against the big leagues of live sketch comedy. Within that world, he tells a story about what happens when it feels like you've paid your dues, and you've got two choices for advancement: move up the ladder, or settle for what you've got. It's this conundrum that plagues each member of the cast, and each of their characters have unique reactions to the pitfalls of living the dream, with Birbiglia's writing giving everyone a strong motivation throughout the film. Through the confines of this film, you get to see each member of The Commune team progress through their own issues, growing with genuine charm and result in every moment. The results don't form a traditional narrative, per se, but they do provide a portrait of a group of people moving through their lives.
Of course, the writing is a perfect complement to the murderer's row of comedic talent that Mike Birbiglia has assembled for his team. While everyone is known primarily for comedy acting and writing, they especially shine with the dramatic component of the film's story. Keegan-Michael Key is especially impressive, as the role of Jack affords him a front-and-center opportunity to put on a hell of a performance. The man navigates through the waters of love, turmoil, and anxiety in such ways that his leading man status is not only confirmed, it's long overdue. With the entire ensemble managing to impress, it's Key's role as the de facto front man that anchors the excellence of his peers all the stronger.
Don't Think Twice is the epitome of independent dramedy, with some solid laughs and genuine dramatic stakes. But the most surprising beat of the film comes with its emotional climax, as by time this film resolved itself into its final moments, I actually cried. It wasn't only because of the tragedy and celebration that take place in the film's third act, but also because the story's full resonance comes through in its closing scene.
Any film can ask for tears, but as any good comedian can tell you, it's the films that honestly earn them that truly succeed. Don't Think Twice is one of those movies, and it's also one of the best films of this year, no questions asked.