Second Thoughts: A Review of Don’t Think Twice
Mike Birbiglia makes movies rarely and for me, at least, that’s probably for the best. Each film, each special he makes has served as a life changing opportunity and there’s only so much of that one can take.
Years ago, I worked as an usher at Monday Night Magic when it shared a theater with the first ever run of his first one man show “Sleepwalk With Me”. We were setting up the theater, placing garish yellow programs on folding chairs as he did tech. When he finished, the theater owner much to his horror introduced him as “a comedian who is doing a show here”and promised us tickets if we asked nice Mike nicely. Mike looked terrified but luckily for him I was the only usher who was interested. I went the next night and after the show during which I spent a significant portion crying, with red shiny eyes I met him at the stage door. “You ok?” he said. “I’m going to be,” I said. “Yeah man, you will.”
Six years ago after my own breakup I showed the couple I lived with the MOVIE and to this day he swears it’s what broke them up. How could it not? It is, to my knowledge the only movie about the honest reason why most breakups happen. Not because he turns out not to be the duke he’s been masquerading as since act one; not that she isn’t in fact her long dead sister; but because they don’t love each other any more and it’s nobody’s fault.
And now, years after that, his brilliant little love letter to Improv: “Don’t Think Twice”. A charming heartbreaking exploration of what it looks like to try to “make it” in a world that has almost never been exposed to the public. I want to admit at the outset that it’s possible the amount one can love Don’t Think Twice may be in direct relationship to how much time one has spent around its subject matter. Its small nods to the New York comedy schools (UCB’s ever present line of chairs, UCB’s collection of novels, the improv games, the team photos, the mumbled whisper of “I got your back” before each show) imbue the film with authenticity and nostalgia like a playlist of your favorite sad songs.
The movie holds up a near perfect mirror to the world it reflects. Anyone who’s ever visited a comedy improv club will recognize the cast of characters. Improv is filled with the spoiled, the desperate, the lucky, the unrecognized, and the tragically unaware. (I myself have been all of the above.)
As little as two or three years ago this would have been a very different film experience for me. Don’t Think Twice is a trap in more than one way During my own prerequisite five levels of improv classes and subsequent failed audition I think this movie might have been lost on me as a tragedy about failing at what you love. About finding your limitations.About deadly compromise.
Like it or not, that’s not a conclusion I can draw from it now. As I watched it I found myself craving to identify with Mike Birbiglia’s character. The frustrated genius failure rather than Keagan Michael Keye’s overwhelmed-in-over-his-head lucky character Jack. But the brilliance of Birbiglia’s movies is there is nowhere to hide from them.I’ve been grotesquely lucky as a comic, and I know it.
Yet interpreting “Dont Think Twice” as a morality tale about being careful what you wish for is a trap as well. Jack is happy. He loses a relationship he needed to lose but largely I think the only message we can take away from Don’t Think Twice is acceptance. Of who and what we are. Of learning to love what we do, not because of where we think it will get us, but because we love it. That’s why Gillian Anderson’s character Sam comes out the most whole. What we interpret at the beginning of the film as her “missed” audition for SNL is in fact her recognition of what she wants to be and do and what that does and does not include. And unlike every other character in the movie, because Samantha’s dreams are to do what she loves and enjoy it, hers are the only dreams that hold. In her own words in the third act of the film “She has fallen down the well but she’s ok.” She likes what others consider her in need to be rescued from and in accepting who she is, she is free.
Don’t Think Twice is a glorious movie. Its subtle, it’s cruel, it’s heartbreaking and heartening. It’s miraculously reflective and honest and I don’t know what it will mean for you. Maybe for you the failed graphic artist or the hummus sample salesman will ring most true; maybe in five years it will take on an entirely different meaning for me. I can’t even promise the movie is entirely well made. Some of the performances are broader than they should be comedians are not all great actors, some of the moments fall to the cliche but the soul of the piece is pure. I don’t know what you will glean from Mike Birbiglia’s lesser known, beautiful little movie but whatever you take away I promise you this. It will be true.
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