Sleepwalk with Me
Mike Birbiglia is a brave guy. The comedian wrote, directed, and stars in Sleepwalk with Me, yet he’s not afraid to portray himself as a first class jerk. This independent comedy is a caustic tale seemingly based on his own life, an intensely personal statement. This motion picture had humble beginnings in 2008 as a one-man show performed off-Broadway in New York City. The odd blend of stand-up jokes and theater was a critical success. So too was his subsequent nonfiction bestseller Sleepwalk With Me & Other Painfully True Stories. He wrote this movie with public radio personality, Ira Glass who also produces This American Life, a weekly hour-long radio program.
Birbiglia is portraying someone named Matt Pandamiglio. He’s dating a pretty, and likable girl named Abby. She’s sweet and understanding to a fault, but she wants to get married. And why not? The couple have been together for 8 years. All of their friends are getting married and having kids. You know, growing up basically. But Mike, being the quintessential man-child, is a commitment phobe of the highest order. He not only struggles with his true feelings for his girlfriend, but also his stand-up career AND a sleepwalking affliction that grows more and more dangerous as his stress level gets worse.
Matt is a difficult guy to like. Lauren Ambrose is a delight as Abby, his long suffering sweetheart. She’s been his loyal, supportive live-in companion. She’s a saint, really, accepting the lack of success in his profession, but also agreeing to loyally wait around while he tries to make up his mind. Matt is hard to support however he’s very very funny. “Remember, you’re on my side,” he cautions us at one point. His observational humor is quite hilarious. In fact he achieves his greatest laughs in front of an audience when he’s willing to poke fun of the apprehensive emotions he has toward his girlfriend. Uh oh, rough seas ahead. The comedy drama is also a grim window into the survival of a struggling performer. The script presents his work as an unglamorous trip on the road from club to club sometimes driving miles out of his way to stay in generic hotel rooms playing engagements that barely, if even, cover the gas mileage it costs to get there. It’s a harsh portrait of a comedian at its rudimentary levels.
Sleepwalk with Me plays to Birbiglia’s strengths. At certain key moments he addresses the viewer à la Woody Allen as he tells his story. The gimmick works because he’s funniest when he riffing on a theme: the world of a comic and the anxiety over his own relationship. By looking directly into the camera, he’s able to give candid thoughts on his everyday existence. As pressure to marry and have kids increases, so does his sleepwalking disorder. We soon witness the potentially life threatening results. The narrative ultimately climaxes to a satisfying, albeit somber conclusion. And that’s ok. Despite the fact that Matt is a most frustrating individual, he’s also very funny. And since this is a comedy, that’s quite alright.