If comedy is tragedy plus time, then Mike Birbiglia’s new film Don’t Think Twice focuses on time—the interim period in which the sad twists and turns of fate transform into humor. The tale of an improv troupe struggling to climb to the next rung of the comedy ladder without climbing over each other has a granular, true-to-life appreciation for its subject from its writer and director, himself a comedian, but manages to avoid feeling like inside baseball. Birbiglia is telling the story of the UCB generation of comedy to an audience that might not even know what UCB stands for—and he does it by making it a universally recognizable tale of artists trying to create work they can be proud of.
Birbiglia made his feature debut in 2012 with Sleepwalk With Me, a filmed version of his one-man show, which essayed his breakup with his fiancée, his career as a stand-up comic, and his struggles with sleepwalking. Though small in scale, it had a strong sense of its characters and their emotional shortcomings, while also communicating the energy and passion of stand-up comedy on screen. With Don’t Think Twice, he ventures into the even tougher ground of improv (the word alone may summon flashbacks to stilted college shows), while focusing on a bigger, messier ensemble. The result is still low-key but similarly intelligent—it’s laugh-out-loud funny, while never shying away from the narcissism and personal shortcomings that fuel many a performer’s life. Sleepwalk With Me was promising, and Don’t Think Twice delivers on that promise: It’s one of the best comedies of the year.