Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Title Reads: Don't Think Twice, So I'm Reviewing It After Thinking About It Once

I just got out of Don't Think Twice. I have a lot of feelings about the movie, but overall, I didn't like it.

                Improv exists at this very weird and strange epicenter of art, business, comedy, stardom, and obscurity. The essence of that struggle, the push and pull, the beauty and tragedy of it, is difficult to capture. Don't Think Twice is a brave effort but in its shorthanding and storytelling methods it robs itself of a lot, a lot, of the complexities and nuance of what it all means to be part of that scene. 

                Mike Birbiglia's character Miles, the founder of the improv team the story is about is absolutely intolerable. For all his talk he has no perspective on comedy as a business.

                Chris Gethard's character struck me as the most reflective of the real person, based on interviews I've listened to with him. His line, especially about what his 20s and his 30s mean to him felt especially personal.

                 Kate Micucci's character was robbed of characterization, which is too bad because she's probably the best actor of the group. Out of nowhere, she has Gethard's bitterness in the scene where they find out Sagher's character Lindsey actually got hired as a writer. But why? Also, Tami Sagher in that scene was absolutely 100% correct, calling out all of them on their bullshit: their misdirected anger and jealousy, Miles' accusation of her not knowing work. She did the work and got the job.

                 Her character was the most interesting to me, because rich parents is not a relatable problem, but wanting to prove herself on her own merits is a very relatable one. She never asked for sympathy, and is never played sympathetically, and I love that.

                The key disconnect for me with this movie is that I believe it wants me to feel bad for or at least somehow empathize with Micucci, Gethard, Birbiglia, and Gillian Jacobs. And I do not. Because they do nothing but get in their own way, constantly. Now the conflicts that arise in the events of the film are all very real, and very unfortunate. The main one being: Improv is about the team, as it is said in the opening montage. But comedy, the business of comedy, is not. If producers come to a show, they book the ones who stand out for whatever reason they want them for. It could be completely arbitrary, it could be completely off-base. (A more interesting conflict to me is the fact that Weekend Live, the show everyone is vying for in the movie, seems to be a mostly white cast, and Jack is the only one hired, and he's black.)

                 Why is nobody happy when Keegan Michael Key's character Jack gets Weekend Live? Streamlined audition process aside, my bigger problem is that he seized the opportunity, landed the audition, and no one was happy for him. Now, I understand being jealous, that happens. But absolutely everyone, right in front of him, is not happy for him? It felt completely disconnected from reality. But Jack is not untalented. He's not set up to be the least talented of the group. In fact, he IS the most talented! And it would make sense that they are mad at him for HOW he got the audition (he was told not to showboat, and in the snippet we see of the improv set, he does an edit to a scene by himself where he gets to do an impression he's good at, and it's only very loosely thematically linked to the previous scenes), EXCEPT that they also booked Jacobs' character Sam for an audition too! And what did we see her do?

                   So obviously, like I said, it's all complicated and messy, but in terms of a movie, it makes no sense. I felt no sympathy for Sam when she didn't audition. I guess later it's a sort of justification because she realizes she didn't want it, but I think I'm supposed to be sympathetic to her, when I have not the slightest but of sympathy for her. Hey, go to your fucking audition! You can't handle rejection? Sucks. That's what this is. If you don't like it, I guess stay in your bubble and teach. Which IS what she did, I guess! But they all felt afraid of success, and in denial about trying. And that's silly. The characters all felt too old to have that mindset. Except Miles. Miles is dumb. 

                    Speaking personally, I was afraid to see this movie because I feared relating too much to it. The disappointment and frustration can happen. But I was thankful to realize I didn't. I hated these characters for the most part, because they were mostly despicable. And the fact that they're played by actually successful folks from the scene is not only ironic, but I find it a bit insulting. Like I said, jealousy has its place. You can use envy, you can use it as a motivator. But for it to make you bitter and sad is just depressing. And people as self-aware as comedians shouldn't be so lost in that tunnel vision.

                     Also a bit frustrating was that all the side plots were way more interesting to me. And that might've made for a stronger movie about improv. I wanted more scenes of them working shit out on stage. Gethard's Dad in the hospital, Miles' reconnecting with this high school flame who's about to have a baby. I think Sam and Jack would have been infinitely more interesting if he just didn't want to do it anymore. And they were a couple who were falling apart because what brought them together was not important to both of them anymore. She could've found a new love in teaching it, and he was just over it. That's fascinating to me.

                     The improv scene of the funeral was the only one I loved. It was real without being so on the nose, like the others, especially the break-up scene. I'm not clear on why they needed to break up and I liked it okay until Sam says, "I belong in the well." Gag.

                      Anyway, I won't hate it completely, because I do think that everyone is doing a good job performing. It's a well-acted, earnest performance from everyone, I just don't particularly care about what's happening to their characters and the way they're reacting to things around them. I also don't want to hate it completely because I hope it leads to other efforts of stories being told about this scene. Ultimately, this is ONE PERSON'S perspective and take on it. And it's not a universal experience. I'm a bit bummed that until the next one, this is the general audience's idea of what the improv scene is, because I've seen it be so much more. I wanted to see the joy. The love. The passion. I wanted to see more of the students. I wanted to see people who'd left it behind. I wanted more ideas people, I wanted to see the punk rock kinda vibe where everyone is in each other's shows and telling people to see improv or even try improv. I hope other people make something more soon.

                      There's hundreds more stories to be told and this one felt like an earnest swing and a miss for me. It's actually a lot like Funny People, a movie with talented people I admire, attempting to encapsulate the ups and downs of a vast scene with absolutely no perspective on it.

                       Finally, the most infuriating part, is right at the beginning when the stage manager tells them 5 minutes and they don't acknowledge her. Coming from a theatre background, I can't think of much that's more rude. Guys, thank your fucking stage manager.