Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 21 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Sexual Content and brief Language
Directed by: Mike Birbiglia
Written by: Mike Birbiglia, Ira Glass, Joe Birbiglia & Seth Barrish
Starring: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane, James Rebhorn, Cristin Milioti, Aya Cash, David Wain & Kristen Schaal
If you’re a fan of Mike Birbiglia’s stand-up, then you’ll most likely be a fan of SLEEPWALK WITH ME. This self-depreciating comedian has a way about making his everyday occurrences and downbeat life experiences into something that you can both laugh about and sympathize with. Birbiglia manages to transfer that quality into his directorial debut in which he stood behind the camera, co-wrote the script (basing it off his own life), and acted in the role of the main character. There’s a genuine and soft-spoken honesty in SLEEPWALK that feels refreshing and wholly enjoyable. It might not be for everybody, but if you like laughs with a dose of sad reality, then you’ll probably enjoy SLEEPWALK WITH ME.
Matt Pandamiglio is a struggling stand-up comedian trying to carve a solid career out of making people laugh. Through much failure and a side job as a bartender, Matt is slowly making his way up the comedy totem pole. This is coming at a price though. Due to a huge amount of anxiety, Matt finds himself suffering from severe sleepwalking spells that are getting increasingly worse. His stress mainly stems from his own struggling relationship with long-time girlfriend Abby, which has been placed on especially rocky waters by a recent wedding in the family. Matt finds himself turning his relationship struggles into laughs on the stage, but also finds himself on a venture of self-discovery.
Mike Birbiglia is playing himself as Matt Pandamiglio. Every experience, bit of storytelling, and joke on the screen is coming from Birbiglia’s own life and stand up. He’s shared these stories on stage before and proven himself capable of telling them in a highly entertaining manner. While that works perfectly on the stage, one may have their doubts about Birbiglia breaking into the cinematic medium. However, this stand-up comedian turned director/actor has managed to incorporate his subdued style of humor in a way that lends well to this visual storytelling format for the most part. There are bits and pieces of dialogue that were clearly meant to get a laugh, but don’t necessarily translate as well onto the screen (though they’re hilarious in his stand-up). Matt isn’t exactly the most likable character, but he’s a realistic and compelling one in spite of his faults (which he clearly addresses from beginning to end).
SLEEPWALK WITH ME really deserves kudos on the realistic stance in how it approaches the life of a stand-up comedian. For every big name that breaks into the mainstream or even gains a cult following, there are hundreds of little folks who will never be successful in a career of making people laugh. Just YouTube comedians and you’re bound to hit at least a thousand names that you’ve never heard of before and will likely never hear from again. Mike Birbiglia isn’t exactly a huge tour-de-force on stage, but he’s made his way into some well-earned success. He also knows what its like to be living from community college gig to 30 minute set at a small bar and he brings these experiences into his screenplay. Besides being about sleep disorders and the life of a comedian, SLEEPWALK also tries to be about a shaky relationship. This aspect is the weakest of the three covered. It’s not as if there’s anything terrible or remarkably bad about it, but some scenes feel a bit forced (such as Abby apathetically trying to pick out a wedding dress or a closing monologue).
If you like Mike Birbiglia, you’ll like SLEEPWALK WITH ME. The film manages to be funny with total honesty that’s bound to be appreciated by filmgoers and (I’d imagine) comedians alike. Most of Birbiglia’s material translates well into the cinematic form, though there are a couple of near-miss jokes. The REM sleep disorder stuff is well-executed as is the life of a struggling comedian trying to break out, but the relationship angle feels a tad forced in places. SLEEPWALK WITH ME has a target audience and will definitely satisfy that demographic. I can also see this playing well with fans of independent dramedy. I recommend this film. If you like it, you might also enjoy Birbiglia’s stand-up album titled SLEEPWALK WITH ME that chronicles his actual real-life story behind this film.