By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
I’m not much of a comedy geek (certainly much less so than many of my friends) so I have to admit I had no idea who Mike Birbiglia was before giving this a watch. If you’re already a fan you’re going to love this, but if you’re in my camp, I’ll toss ya an intro:
Sleepwalk With Me is based on Birbiglia’s actual experiences, and also the genesis of that act. “Matt Pandadiglio” is a wanna-be comedian bartender with a girlfriend of 8 years (Lauren Ambrose of Six Feet Under fame) who’s starting to want something more. He has trouble committing, and when a small break begins to evolve into what might be his big break when he starts basing his material on this fact, the distance between them grows. Oh, and he also has a serious and potentially dangerous sleepwalking problem.
This movie, as you’d really, really hope a comedian’s writing/acting/directing debut to be, is quite funny. Birbiglia’s schtick is about what you’d get if you combined Louis C.K.’s wryly observational, self-effacing material with Mitch Hedberg’s deadpan, laid-back style, and can rival the heights of either, although not as consistently. The comic highlights, though, are his sleepwalking episodes, which alternate between his dreamworld and how he acts it out in real life.
Although the consequences are less amusing
The supporting cast, especially Ambrose, but also James Rebhorn as his direct, overbearing father and Carol Kane as his oblivious mother, plus a sprinkling of comedian cameos, do an excellent job surrounding Birbiglia with fleshed-out characters that feel real. This gives the film a depth of feeling and real emotional stakes that keep you engaged beyond just the protagonist’s relatable plight. So, when the almost inevitable end does come, it still packs a surprising punch and underlines the film’s poignant message.
The framework of the film is Birbiglia driving alone to God knows where while he converses with the camera directly as he tells his story. It’s not a bad conceit, but can be disruptive and at times awkward.
The other thing that annoyed me about the film is how Birbiglia incessantly shoots himself in the foot with his relationships. It’s self-criticizing to almost an exaggerated extent, and sometimes feels like him setting up his own story blocks then knocking them down to create extra drama instead of growing it organically.
Sleepwalk With Me is an extremely polished and confident film debut from an interesting comic voice. Here’s hoping Mike Birbiglia has even more stores to tell us in this medium, and that he gets the opportunity to do so.
Take a Drink: whenever Matt sleepwalks
Take a Drink: anytime anything overtly standup-y happens
Take a Drink: whenever Matt has trouble committing to something
Do a Shot: every time that Matt says/does something incredibly dumb or alienating to his girlfriend