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Chris Gethard, Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Mike Birbiglia, Katie Micucci and Tami Sagher of the film "Don't Think Twice." Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Review: ‘Don’t Think Twice’ explores life and friendship in dark and hilarious ways

Dramedy is a term loosely thrown around to classify any semi-serious film with a few laughs, but few movies capture a balance where they’re able to find the comedy in drama. Life is often sad, and that sadness provides the best laughs when you take a step back and really think about it.

Stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia’s debut feature, “Sleepwalk With Me,” struggled with that balance, the comedy coming in its own sections separate from the dramatic storytelling. It’s a great film, but there was often a noticeable barrier between the two because its comedy mostly came in the form of stand-up routines. And even though it explored larger existential questions, its semi-autobiographical structure felt anecdotal and specific in nature.

Birbiglia’s follow-up, “Don’t Think Twice,” is an improvement in a lot of ways, though a step back in a few others. Following The Commune, a fictional New York-based improv troupe, “Don’t Think Twice” asks what happens when one member of the six-person group gets the big break they’re all chasing. It’s a unique meditation on success, not so much focused on the success itself but the effects it has on the people who don’t find it.

“Don’t Think Twice” tries to cover a lot of ground in that exploration, and most of it works. Each member of the troupe is struggling with their own issues, ranging from finishing that dream project every artist has to realizing that you aren’t going to make it in show business. There’s a quote from the movie where one of the troupe’s members says, “Your 20’s are all about hope and then your 30’s are all about realizing how dumb it was to hope.” Existential discoveries like that are peppered throughout the film, but Birbiglia’s deft writing keeps the funny from veering into full-on depressing.

Unfortunately, the movie also stretches itself thin trying to capture all six members as full-fledged characters. Characters will disappear for stretches of the film as it focuses on other people, and then they’ll randomly pop back in. It’s not entirely disjointed from a narrative standpoint, but some characters don’t get the screentime they deserve. Lindsay (Tami Sagher) and Allison (Kate Micucci) are both really interesting people, but never get their chance to shine.

The troupe’s improv sessions display the balance between comedy and drama. Even though they do provide a majority of the laughs, they also act as exposition of sorts, using the show-don’t-tell method to demonstrate the group’s dynamic and explore their relationship. In particular, the final improv show of the film is a beautiful moment that fuses that desire to laugh and cry.

“Don’t Think Twice” has a lot of bitter pills to swallow about life, friendship and where those two things intersect, but it never feels like it’s beating you over the head with its message. It’s relatable, hilarious and poignant all at the same time. Birbiglia once again proves himself a writer-director to watch with a film that sets out — and succeeds — to leave you in stitches and tears.
8/10 stars

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