Don’t Think Twice ***1/2
One Liner Review:
A very interesting and different kind of movie about success and failure in the entertainment industry.
A movie about making it in the entertainment industry and watching the reactions of all those around you, this one gets into the dark side of comedy, showing the world of comedians in a way we never really pictured before. On the one hand, this movie has the same themes of films like All AboutEve, Boogie Nights, and Showgirls, where the idea is to make it any way you can, including pushing down the competition. But unlike those other movies, this time the competition is a group fo friends. And watching how competitive they get, and how jealous they become when one of them actually does make is pretty fascinating. Instead of being happy for each other, or happy on the surface, but angry behind closed doors, this movie allows the characters to show their trues feelings and not hold back when it comes to being jealous. It’s an incredibly interesting film.
Don’t Think Twice is a fantastic movie about a group of improvisational actors who work together as a team, while each one individually strives for his or her own success apart from the others. This is a true ensemble film, where the team is filled with these colorful characters and their stories. And the goal of each of them seems to be to get casted on this big, nationally broadcasted show, called Weekend Live. This show is a sketch comedy program that is pretty much exactly like Saturday Night Live. When I say exactly, I mean even the opening credits and way they announce each cast member is the same. But before the characters get anywhere near that show, we meet them while doing an on stage improv performance, and it’s the perfect way to get introduced to everyone, being thrown right into the fire.
The movie opens with a voice over explaining the rules of improv, while we watch black and white clips of the history of improvisational comedy. The rules are that you need to accept the choices that any other actor on the stage makes and go with them, you need to add to these choices and build on them, and you need to support the team, not the individual. All of these rules will be broken during the course of the film. And when they are, we feel it as betrayal of both the characters and the art form. We feel like things have gotten so bad between them that they are willing to break the cardinal rules of their art and sacrifice it out of their hate for each other, and what each of them has become.
After that opening, about the rules, we meet the players. It’s during one of their shows, and the team goes out and introduces themselves to the crowd, (which is really a way of introducing themselves to the audience.) The team is called The Commune. There are six members. Three guys and three girls. Jack, (played by Keegan Michael Key,) is the one who stands out the most being the only black actor, (and also the only non white-American in the group.) He’s also much taller and more energetic than the others, and he’s also played by the biggest star actor in the cast. So, while this is definitely an ensemble piece, if there is a protagonist or character who is featured more than the others, it is most definitely Jack. His girlfriend, Samantha (Gillian Jacobs,) is also in the group. She and Jack seem to have a good relationship, although he’s super ambitious and has his head in the clouds, while she seems down to earth, and grounded.
Then there’s Miles, (Mike Birbiglia,) as the sort of leader of the group. He’s older then the others, (not that he’s old, he’s only 36,) and the one who has been at it the longest. In fact, he even taught some of them everything they know about improv. The other three members of the crew aren’t quite as front and center, but they do still get more fleshed out than side characters do in most movies. There’s Bill, a guy whose disapproving father wants his son to find a job where he can actually make money. Especially since the father is well off himself, and buys properties all the time, willing to help his son out with one of them. Another character whose parents are well off is Lindsay. Her parents own a brownstone on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and she lives with them, which causes s little problem for her habit of being a pothead. Finally, there’s Allison, an artist and writer of comics who never finishes her dream project, a book that she’s been working on for years.
The story really gets started one night when the characters learn that the producers of Weekend Live will be in the audience during that nights performance. The theater where they are doing their improv show is closing in about two weeks, which means pretty soon they will all need to find something new to do with themselves. With that in mind, this performance in front of the producers represents a major last chance opportunity to make something happen for their careers. Right before going on stage, Miles pulls Jack aside and tells him not to showboat. He basically tells Jack not to show off and steal the show, and put himself in front of everyone else, like Jack apparently has done in the past. And yet, that’s exactly what Jack ends up doing.
The sketch they perform is about a girl who gets in a cab and finds out that the driver is her long lost father. And Jack finds a way to work in his President Obama impression, and jump right in front of the others with it. The result is that both he and Samantha get called in for auditions with Weekend Live, but the group is not happy with how he did it. They feel like he forced the impression into the show, when it most definitely did not fit. Jack took advantage of a situation where he could show off, and now he’s the one getting all the acclaim. He and his girlfriend. Three of the four others (everyone but Miles,) submit writing packages to Weekend Live, hoping to be hired as writers for the show. So clearly this isn’t just a Jack thing. They all know that the end is coming for their improv group and want to get a job somewhere else while they are still holding onto the dream.
And now we follow the couple, Jack and Samantha, as they prepare for their auditions. We watch them practicing in the shower or over bowls of cereal, working on their impressions, and having discussions about the auditions with each other. After some nervous preparation, it comes time for the actual auditions, and let’s just say it doesn’t go as expected. We learn more about the characters from this, for the first time realizing that not all of their dreams are really the same. It’s a surprising, rude awakening and when Jack comes back to the group to tell them what happened, he’s even more shocked by their reactions.
This pretty much brings us into the second half of the movie, which is all about jealousy. When one of the team members makes it, the others are visibly upset. Not only are they not happy for him but they’re; jealous. . They are angry, and feel betrayed. Each of them wanted to be the one who made it, and now they resent Jack, asking questions like, “what does he have that I don’t have?” The friends still get together to watch his shows when they air on TV, but instead of laughing, they are resentful. It’s incrddibly interesting and unexpected. The success of one makes the dark side of the others come out.
The movie continues to follow the path of our rising star, as he tries to maintain his friendship with the others. He even goes to the writers and producers of the show he’s on, and asks about getting jobs for his friends. The response he is given is something to the extent of, “forget about. your friends. Just try not to get fired yourself.” In other words, Jack should feel lucky to have this job, and should not be asking for anything else. And yet, he continues to try, perhaps out of guilt. He even brings one of the hosts of Weekend Live out to a show of the Communes, to sit in the audience.
And despite Jack’s efforts to make things better, they really only get worse. The audience doesn’t want the Commune anymore. They want Jack. On a night when he doesn’t show up, all the audience ask is “where’s Jack.” And when Jack does show up, they just want him to do the same impressions that he does every week on Weekend Live. This causes even more resentment from his friends. And the tension builds. And keeps building. It gets to the point where characters are actually ripping off each others ideas, throwing all of their rules and moral boundaries out the window, in order to get ahead. All of this is incredibly interesting, and makes for a great film.