First, there are chairs on a stage—the only prop you will ever see in an improv show.
Next, a montage flits across the screen, old black-and-white videos and shots of people doing theater warm-ups, the scene narrated by several people talking over each other to lay down the rules (No. 1: say “yes;” No. 2: it’s all about the group; No. 3: don’t think). The world of improvisation slowly starts to shift into focus.
I admit—I’m a little biased. I have immersed myself in the steadily growing improv community in Harrisburg for the past three years. So, when a film about an improv team pops up, my immediate reaction is, “I’m either going to love this or I’m going to hate this.” Will it truthfully represent the magical environment that improv engenders? Or will it fall dismally short?
It doesn’t fall short. “Don’t Think Twice,” written and directed by Mike Birbiglia, is a heartfelt glimpse into the life of an improviser. It captures the joys, fears and hang-ups that come from being a part of a group that lives and breathes improvisational comedy.
And it’s not just a film for improv-lovers. It goes out of its way to get the average Joe up to speed with the basics of the improv world. And it’s not just about performance—it’s about the performers.
The film revolves around a long-form improv group called The Commune—six people who live in New York, working dead-end jobs during the day so they can perform at night and do what they love best. They each have their own relatable insecurity or shortcoming to add to the story. Miles (Birbiglia) teaches improv but watches student after student surpass him in success. Bill (Chris Gethard) struggles with his relationship with his career-driven father. Lindsay (Tami Sagher) tries to separate herself from the trust-fund stigma that is derived from living with her parents. Allison (Kate Micucci) allows her fear of failure to keep her from finishing her graphic novel.
Some of them want to use The Commune as a jumping-off point for bigger things, such as being cast on the fictional TV show “Weekend Live.” The members of The Commune constantly criticize the show (a thinly veiled “Saturday Night Live”), but they all want to be on it.
Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) desperately wants to make it onto “Weekend Live,” so much so that he will compromise a show to pull it off. When a representative from “Weekend Live” comes to their next show, Jack and Sam (Gillian Jacobs) both get called in for an audition. This causes a rift in the group. They try to be supportive of their teammates, but the underbelly of their tight-knit relationship begins to show.
The beauty of this story is that it doesn’t try to overdramatize the characters’ relationships. They are pretty honest with each other and genuinely care about each other, though they each have their own tightrope to walk. The film does come to a head a little too neatly to be realistic, but the aftermath of the crisis holds true. The cast works seamlessly together, setting each other up for bits and generally acting like they’ve spent years working together.
Birbiglia has crafted a great film. Whether you’re a fan of improv or not, “Don’t Think Twice” will win your heart. Coming soon to Midtown Cinema.
AUGUST SPECIAL EVENTS
Free Outdoor Film Series
Friday, Aug. 5, dusk
Friday, Aug. 26, dusk
The Late Shift with Zeroday
“Dazed and Confused”
Saturday, Aug. 6, 10:30 p.m.
Filmmaking Weekend: Aug. 5-7
Screening: Aug. 14
Down in Front!
“Killer School Girls from Outer Space”
Friday, Aug. 12, 9:30 p.m.
Classic Film Series
“Goodbye Mr. Chips”
Sunday, Aug. 14, 6 p.m.
3rd in the Burg $3 Movie
Friday, Aug. 19, 9:30 p.m.
Faulkner Honda Family Film Series
“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”
Saturday, Aug. 20, 12 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 21, 2 p.m.
15th Anniversary Series
Saturday, Aug. 27, 8 p.m.