Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 32 min.
Our content ratings: Violence 0; Language 5; Sex/Nudity 3.
Our star rating (1-5): 4.5
Iron sharpens iron,
and one person sharpens the wits of another.
If it weren’t for the fact that the title has already been claimed by a film popular among evangelicals, Mike Birbiglia’s second feature could have been titled Left Behind. That is how members of the NYC based improv group The Commune feel when one of their members is singled out for the Big Break by producers of a TV weekend show.
The film’s prologue lays down three principles of improv: 1. You respond with a “Yes…” to whatever an audience member suggests; 2. You do not try to stand out but rather work with your colleagues to produce a funny skit; and 3. You do not think, because improv requires you to be free and to go with the flow, whereas rational thought makes you uptight.
The director himself plays Miles, his six-member group (evenly divided by sex) drawing an enthusiastic crowd. But not a large enough one to bring them financial stability. All but one have to work during the day, and the one comes from a well-off family willing to support her. Then comes the day when a rep from the popular TV program is in the audience, and Jack goes into his Barak Obama impression. It is not really related to the skit, which is set off by the group’s signature question, “Who has had a bad day?” Thus it violates Rule 2.
When Jack’s interview is a success and the others watch him on their small TV set, all sorts of emotions arise, the chief being jealousy. How they work this out, while dealing with the crisis that they have to find a new venue because a developer is buying the building that serves as their theater, makes for entertainment that is a fine blend of humor and pathos. They also gather around one of their members whose father is severely injured in an accident.
I have not seen a comedy film that reveals as much about humor, especially of the improvisational kind as this one. Unlike the stand-up comedian who has carefully honed his act through numerous rehearsal and try-outs, members of an improv group depend upon one another, each contributing a piece of the skit that fully emerges only at the conclusion of the act. Each member must be nimble, often sending the skit in a different direction from which it began. And like all humor, the person’s words must be unexpected. The skits themselves are enjoyable, as are the ways in which the members show their conflicting emotions. Jack has guilt feeling, especially when his boss rebuffs his attempts to recruit his friends for the TV show. Add this to your list of “must see” shows!
Sorry, but I’m so rushed that I don’t have time for discussion questions. However, I will post some on my blog by Sept. 5, so check it out at visualparables.org.
This set of discussion questions will be posted on my blog by September 5 2016.
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