Review of Don't Think Twice

Don't Think Twice is well-acted, believable, funny, touching, etc. The reviews are good: 83% on Metacritic, 99% on RottenTomatoes. But enough about the movie.

I like Birbiglia well enough, but I haven't been a huge fan until now. I don't remember being knocked out by Sleepwalk with Me. So why has this rocketed to the tippy-top of my all-time favorite list?

Improv is dear to my heart, though I've mostly been a spectator. I've taken improv courses, had an improv troupe perform at our wedding, and written a lengthy pseudo-academic treatise on improv's "yes, and..." practice as a conceptual framework for viewing acceptance and resistance in a variety of disciplines including Aikido and psychotherapy (just a trick to get you to read a long boring paper).

I haven't devoted my life to improv, but I can see why people do, and why someone would make a love letter of a movie about it. I secretly suspect improv could save the world, and I wish everyone would take classes and attend live performances - the classes aren't as scary as you might think.

Don't Think Twice is not a mockumentary, but a drama/comedy about a group of improv performers, most of whom are hoping to make it to the next level (a hardly-disguised Saturday Night Live, where funny goes to die). I imagine the movie would have felt perfectly realistic even if I hadn't had a few glimpses inside the curtain, but that certainly gave it additional resonance.

Aside from that, it hits on a number of themes I've been grappling with, mostly relating to the material vs. the spiritual and the corrosive effects of capitalism. I would gladly quit my job and devote the rest of my days to songwriting, given the same pay, but I can't seem to find that job listing. Why pay someone if they'll do it for the love of it? Apparently there are enough songwriters already (though fewer these days who can actually make a living at it), and I never felt a strong enough calling or had enough nerve to make that leap. I admire those who do, but I'm just a tourist.

I thought about doing an open mic the other night but thought, why bother? Why put up with the stage fright to play for a couple dozen people who are just waiting for their turn to play? It's not like I'm going to be discovered, or find a band that wants to record my songs. And ultimately, maybe it comes down to money and its insidious effects on our psychology. Sometimes when I hear a Will Shortz puzzle on NPR, I think: if you want me to wrack my brain on this, you need to pay me, asshole -- solve your own damn puzzles. (I have nothing against Will Shortz.)

Sometimes I think of Republicans as being corrupted by money to the extent that they make all their decisions based on cockeyed short-term monetary calculations, but it hits a little closer to home than that. Why bother writing songs no one is ever going to hear? Does it count for nothing if they mean something to me? Does the present moment count for nothing? If a tree falls in a forest and someone makes a guitar out of it and I use the guitar to write a song and no one hears it, does it make a sound? Should I spend my golden years doing what I want, or saving up for my rotting years? If we're all going to die someday, why bother doing anything that doesn't pay at least a couple grand? I need to watch the movie again, but I don't think it answers all these questions.

The last on-stage scene was the heart of the movie. I would have gladly watched it play out for much longer, possibly forever, had the plot not arrived. Gillian Jacobs's Samantha had struggled with taking her career to the next level. Were her decisions due to lack of confidence, love of the art, love of community, all of the above? We all make our choices. She made hers, and it was lovely and inspiring to watch.

back to the Museum of Conceptual Art