Movie review of “Don’t Think Twice”: Comedy pros, including Mike Birbiglia and Keegan-Michael Key, add authenticity to this story about struggling improv comedians. Rating: 3-and-a-half out of 4 stars.

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In a preshow ritual, a group of improv-comedy performers pause together backstage, each saying to the others, “Got your back.” That’s one of the principles for their particular brand of live performance — listen to each other, work as a team, don’t let anyone falter alone — but it’s also something of a theme for “Don’t Think Twice,” a smart, wistful and very funny movie in which six friends weather difficult times but ultimately realize that they do, indeed, have each other’s back, for always.

Written, directed by and featuring Mike Birbiglia (“Sleepwalk With Me”), the movie focuses on The Commune, whose six members have been making live comedy together in Manhattan for 11 years. In their 30s, they mostly still live like college students, waiting to get their big break. But when news comes that their longtime theater is about to be shuttered — an Urban Outfitters, apparently, is moving in — it ruptures the group. And when one hits the improv jackpot and joins the cast of “Weekend Live” (a “Saturday Night Live” clone, complete with a Lorne Michaels-like leader and the constant question, “Was it great EVER?”), the others struggle with unexpected competitiveness and resentment.

Birbiglia wisely cast his movie with comedy pros rather than A-list names. You immediately accept The Commune as a real-life troupe, with all the nervous energy, whip-quick reactions and constant jostling for attention as any group of performers brings. Keegan-Michael Key’s Jack — a tall, handsome crowd-pleaser — is a standout; more interested in stardom than the rest of them, he has a practiced looseness, a constant sense that someone’s watching. Birbiglia’s Miles has a silent, potent scene in which he merely gazes at himself in a mirror; you can hear the voice in his head reminding him that he no longer looks young, and that perhaps a young man’s dreams don’t make sense anymore. (Earlier in the film, he’s crushed when a young woman says of him, witheringly but more-or-less accurately, “You’re, like, 40.”)

Movie Review ★★★½  

‘Don’t Think Twice,’ with Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Mike Birbiglia, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, Chris Gethard. Written and directed by Birbiglia. 92 minutes. Rated R for language and some drug use. SIFF Cinema Uptown.

Birbiglia is scheduled to appear at the 7 and 9:30 p.m. shows Friday, Aug. 5.

Great improv, says a character at one point, is like “watching people put the plane together while already in the sky.” Great movies are like that, too — when there’s a sense that the characters’ lives are playing out in front of us, in real time, and we have no idea what might come next. That’s the case with “Don’t Think Twice,” which ultimately becomes a gentle meditation on late-blooming coming-of-age. You begin the movie with six strangers; you end it, changed, with six friends.

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