Writer-director Mike Birbiglia condenses years of experience in live comedy into this smart, affectionate take on the rivalry, love, ambition, and creative juices that fuel the lives of professional comedians. When one of members of a New York City improv group called The Commune gets hired at Weekend Live, an SNL-like kahuna of a TV show that represents the ultimate in ticket-punching success for a professional comic, his coup sends most of the other members into a frenzy of self-doubt, frustration, or attempts to ride his coattails into the limelight.
But Don’t Think Twice isn’t about success or failure as much as it is about the creative life, as experienced by a group of youngish comedians who’ve achieved a certain level of success, but still need day jobs or indulgent parents to support their comedy habit. As thirtysomething Bill (Chris Gethard) puts it: “I feel like your 20s are all about hope, and then your 30s are all about leaning how dumb it was to hope.” And most of the group’s members are in their 30s.
There’s a real sense of family within The Commune, as evidenced not just in the ritual pre-performance group hug, but also in mind-meld moments like the group’s trip back from visiting Bill’s father in the hospital after the man suffers from a stroke, in which they get Bill to laugh by competing for the best impression of the one halting phrase his father managed to croak out. No wonder Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), perhaps The Commune’s most talented member, wants nothing more than to keep performing with her friends in their shabby little theater.
But everyone else in the group—including Sam’s boyfriend, Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), its most scene-stealing member—has at least one eye on Weekend Live. Their obsession with the show keeps putting them into comically embarrassing situations, like when guest host Ben Stiller comes to see their show, after one of them has joined Weekend Live, and they blow their big chance to connect with a star, peppering him with awkward questions when he comes over to their table in a bar afterward to congratulate them. It’s just one of many slightly painfully funny and truthful moments in this surefooted film.
The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 13—24.