Are there people who don’t know what improvisational comedy is? Writer/director Mike Birbiglia seems to think so, because he begins his new film Don’t Think Twice with a short history of the development of improv and an explanation of the rules, the way each new onstage inspiration requires a “Yes, and … ” response from the other player in order to keep the sketch going. This primer makes the film stumble out of the gate, but all right, the rare individual who chooses to see a film about improv comedy without knowing how it works will be up to speed. Happily, the film does not feel the need to explain itself thereafter, and we are free to enjoy a pleasantly low-key comedy-drama credibly laced with disappointment and frustration—and the occasional onstage high.
The final credit on Digging for Fire is a dedication to the late Paul Mazursky, the director of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice and An Unmarried Woman and other bittersweet comedies of manners. It can be presumptuous for a young filmmaker—here mumblecore maven Joe Swanberg—to invoke a predecessor. But in this case, fair enough. Digging for Fire has aspects that do indeed recall Mazursky’s movies: a sunburnt L.A. location, an undercurrent of satire directed at its floundering characters, and close attention to actors. Some pretentiousness, too, although in this case everything goes down pretty easily.
While Tim (Jake Johnson) and Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt, of Touchy Feely) house-sit in a rambling mansion far above their pay grade (she’s a yoga instructor to a rich person who’s lent them the place for a while), they decide to spend a weekend apart.