Mike Birbiglia is known to comedy fans as a hardworking road comic, actor, and writer. His comedy is often very raw and honest, as well as quite self-deprecating. Birbigs, as he’s known to many, wears his heart on his sleeve. It’s kinda his thing.
His directorial debut film, an adaptation of his first off-Broadway one man show, Sleepwalk With Me was a major accomplishment. The film focuses his failing relationship and his emerging sleep disorder. Opening at Sundance to rave reviews, it won the Best of NEXT Audience Award and was picked up for distribution by IFC Films. The film found a larger audience on Netflix, where it still is available to stream now.
While the first film was strong, his sophomore effort, Don’t Think Twice, shows a great deal of growth. His writing is deeper and stronger than ever before. However, the real growth can be seen in his directorial prowess. Where everyone already knew that Birbigs could write and act, Don’t Think Twice sets him apart as a filmmaker with a unique style and a true voice.
The film opens with an improv troupe at one of their shows. Right from the door, it is easy to understand that there is one member of the group who is both exceptionally funny on stage and a big of a mic hog. Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), the aforementioned spotlight hound, hits the big time and gets onto a Saturday Night Live style weekend sketch comedy show. What comes next is the “will they, won’t they” back and forth of a group trying to stay together despite being faced with some difficult obstacles.
Key is great as Jack, albeit the character feels as if it’s not too far off from the way Key comes across in general. Confident, but also secretly a bit unsure of himself at times, Jack is a perfect example of who a newcomer to the big show would probably be. The ensemble of comedy scene alums also features Community‘s Gillian Jacobs, half of Garfunkel & Oates Kate Miucci, established comedy writer Tami Sagher, respected UCBer Chris Gethard, and the Birbigs himself.
While the whole ensemble is essential to the story and all play their part in the on screen improv team, the film spends a ton of time with 3 of the comedians, Key’s Jack, as well as Birbiglia’s Miles (the troupe’s founder) and Jacob’s Samantha (Jack’s girlfriend, who eventually becomes the focal point of the film’s climax). These three are all incredible in their roles. There is honesty, rawness, and emotion, as well as great comic timing, in each of their performances. The role players outside of this core trio are equally strong in their portrayals of the other members of the team. In fact, it’s fair to say that the cast was all top notch.
With that in mind, one may assume that the thing that makes this movie work so well is these performances; and, that assumption would not be totally incorrect. However, the writing and direction are also top notch. The casting is pitch perfect, but so are the script and the directorial decisions. This is where the growth of Birbiglia is most evident. His performance as the very funny, extremely wry, and deeply wounded comic is something his fans will understand, as he is playing a version of himself. His heart is on his sleeve, as it always is with him, but this time he has mastered his craft and the on screen translation of what makes Birbiglia one of the deeper and most honest comedians around today is fully realized. The film looks great, the on-screen chemistry is sheer perfections, and even the highest fan and critic expectations are sure to be met.
The film is intelligent, funny, and racked with the entire spectrum of human emotion. Over a week after watching this film, it’s still with me. My heart still hasn’t fully recovered. That’s the mark of something truly special. That’s the mark of a filmmaker who has truly found his voice.
Don’t Think Twice is playing in select theaters nationwide.