Main Cast: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose
Director: Mike Birbiglia
I have no idea how or why anyone becomes a stand-up comedian. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they do (I’m looking at you, Jake Johannsen) – it just seems like a grueling, soul crushing way to make a living. We get to see just how soul crushing in the Mike Birbiglia penned, helmed and starring feature Sleepwalk With Me.
The film starts out with Birbiglia (playing a character named Matt Pandamiglio, who is actually Mike Birbiglia – the film is based on his own story) and his girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose from Six Feet Under) preparing for his sister’s wedding. Naturally, the subject of when Matt and Abby might get married comes up, despite Matt’s obvious discomfort with the topic. The film follows Matt as he tries to launch his stand-up career and deal with his relationship with Abby all while suffering from a major sleepwalking disorder in which he acts out his dreams.
First, the good stuff. Lauren Ambrose is fantastic as devoted girlfriend Abby. She’s supportive of his career, adorable and pretty much perfect in every way, which makes his unwillingness to marry her all the more exasperating. She’s also close with his parents (played by Carol Kane and James Rebhorn), making her completely entwined in his life. He knows she’s perfect, but he also knows he doesn’t want to get married.
Also fascinating (and funny in a sort of terrifying way) is his sleepwalking. He isn’t just going to the bathroom and groggily missing the toilet, he’s full on acting out his dreams, in both hilarious and very dangerous ways. As he travels the stand-up circuit he starts to deal with both issues as his comedy becomes more focused on his own life and less on lame observational humor that always, always fails.
Sleepwalk With Me isn’t going to be a movie for everyone. I’m still not entirely sure it’s a movie for me. I found myself bored during the
scenes of Birbiglia traveling from club to club, mostly laying eggs and living the youth hostel (at best) life of a struggling comedian. But if you’re a fan of Birbiglia’s comedy you’re likely to get far more enjoyment from those portions.
I also thought the film skimped on what is arguably the most interesting aspect of the man – the sleepwalking. It’s in there, of course, but I would have liked to see a lot more of not only his nighttime escapades but also the fallout from his REM sleep misbehavior. The story was originally a one man Off-Broadway show that was turned into a book of stories, then into this film. Perhaps the many iterations of the same material served to dilute rather than sharpen the presentation.
Overall, Sleepwalk With Me is a reasonably interesting look at both the perils of trying to become a comedian and the extreme challenges of a major sleep disorder, wrapped in the story of a faltering relationship. Definitely recommended for fans of Birbiglia (especially new fans who aren’t familiar with his story) and stand-up comedian aficionados – only a mild recommendation for the rest of us. 3 out of 5 stars.
photo by Brian Freedman