Once every few years, I’ll watch an episode of 30 Rock or go to a free show at UCB and be inspired to take an improv class. I’ll then pay my deposit at whatever theater has a 101 section available with the intent of actually making it through the whole program this time but will ultimately fail to finish, with my improv career nothing more than the occasional drink with a couple of former classmates every so often. It isn’t so much a lack of commitment or talent that keeps me from doing it but more a fear of becoming too deeply entrenched, that if I put my time and energy and get really good, it may materialize into anything substantial except the continued, simple joy or doing improv.
This is the key issue that Don’t Think Twice tackles head on: What happens when you are no longer the wide-eyed, 20-something who spends their days uber driving and heading to Groundlings classes, but are now in your thirties, wondering if this is the only footprint you’ll leave on the world and if you’d actually be okay with that. The characters coming to grips with this issue are known as The Commune, a group of talented, veteran improv performers who see their troupe become fractured after Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), one of their members earns a spot on a prestigious, Saturday Night Live-esque show. Jack clearly becomes increasingly famous and distant while his troupmates grow envious and resentful, asking him for favors and chastising him when he isn’t able to deliver.
As much as they’d all like to say they’re happy for Jack’s success and know that they all can’t “make it,” they honestly don’t feel that way. They’re pissed that Jack got this and they didn’t. They don’t feel he’s worthy of this grand honor handed down to him by the comedy gods. While not friendly, their behavior is totally normal. In fact, it is the most normal behavior creatives or artistic types can have when they’re finally told “no, this isn’t going to amount to anything, you aren’t going to be famous and millions of people aren’t going to remember your name, this is it for you.” Damn straight you’re going to be pissed off!
It’s a mature standpoint from a mature film, a story fresh and original because its central message isn’t a hokey “follow your dreams” but a more emotionally-distilled “don’t be afraid when your dreams don’t work out.” Directed and written by Mike Birbiglia, the movie carries his personal ethos of “do stuff that you’re proud of,” with Samantha serving as the main vehicle for Birbiglia’s message. Samantha comes to realize she is most happy in the moment of pure, unfiltered improv, not when she’s trying to transform improv into something else. The other troupmates try to achieve this same inner zen after going through the five stages of comedy career grief, but there’s still a spark of hope in their eye that they’re waiting for that moment when Seth MacFarlane or Judd Apatow will spot them on the street and offer them a side role in their new film. Samantha, though, has no such glint, no ulterior motives or hidden agendas. She’s doing this just for the sake of doing it. That makes her unrealistic, but it does make her admirable.