I have to say, pumped as I am about this coming Oscar season, I haven't been terribly enamored with 2016's movie offerings. I've given a tinsy-winsy five films a higher grade than B+ and even my favorite film of the year (until this weekend), The Nice Guys, I only gave an A- and had a handful of qualms with. Nothing had left me head-over-heels.
That is, until (at last!) checking out Mike Birbiglia's second directorial effort (after 2012's Sleepwalk with Me), Don't Think Twice. It is handily the finest film I've seen in 2016 and it would have to be a uber-boffo Oscar season for this not to make my final top 10 of the year.
The picture, the All About Eve of improvisational comedy movies, often recalls the likes of Tootsie and Noises Off. It is also so. much. better. than fellow films of this genre like Punchline, Funny People and Mr. Saturday Night. Heck, Don't Think Twice simply has to be among the greatest pictures ever made about comedians.
In the film, Birbiglia portrays Miles, the elder statesman of the New York improvisational comedy troupe The Commune, who, for more than a decade, have been working their tail off at a tiny Manhattan theater, to modest-at-best fanfare. Miles, as he so often likes to put it, came "inches away" from once being cast on Weekend Live, a variety program that's a dead ringer for Saturday Night Live.
At one Commune show, a couple of Weekend Live producers stop by and invite members Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) and Samantha (the film's MVP Gillian Jacobs) to audition for their show. Jack, who has a penchant for showing off and upstaging his fellow Commune pals, nails his audition, while Samantha, who's shy to the idea of comedy superstardom, bails on auditioning altogether.
Jack's hire awakens loads of passive-aggressive resentment from the rest of the Commune, especially from Miles, who trained Jack in the art of improv, and leaves Samantha feeling lost at sea. Making matters all the more uneasy is announcement of the closure of The Commune's hole-in-the-wall venue.
Even if there's not a real "A-lister" among them, Don't Think Twice sports one of the most exciting ensemble casts I've seen grace the screen in a while. Beyond Birbiglia, Key and Jacobs, there's also Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher and, in a role that demands just as many dramatic as comic chops, Chris Gethard. Jacobs is particularly incredible here, devastatingly good on the impressions side (of Katharine Hepburn and Gena Rowlands, no less!) but also crafting an amazingly complex and engrossing character.
As for Birbiglia, I often found myself in real awe of just how pitch-perfect his screenplay is here. He has such an ear for dialogue, like a funnier Alexander Payne, delivering just as many thought-provoking lines as side-splitting ones. Sans his adorable work in last year's Trainwreck, I admittedly wasn't all that familiar with Birbiglia going into Don't Think Twice. After seeing this treasure of a picture, I'm eager for everything Birbiglia (and Jacobs!), past and present.