Review: 'Sleepwalk With Me'
A Comedy For Anyone Who Ever Had A Dream... And Then Jumped Out A Window
"Sleepwalk With Me" (opening September 14th at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas) is the story of a simple minded up-and-coming comedian and his struggle with career, romance, and REM sleep behavior disorder.
Mike Birbiglia delivers a pleasant surprise with his first (mostly) serious film, "Sleepwalk With Me." I was surprised not only with the relatable writing and scenarios he put himself in, but the engaging roles of Matt Pendamiglio (played by Birbiglia) and Abby (the incredibly beautiful Lauren Ambrose). Matt and Abby's relationship feels most real during its hardest points. It becomes familiarly uncomfortable (not quite "(500) Days of Summer" uncomfortable, but bad). Matt travels on the road extensively, and on a moment's notice, to pave his way on the comedy circuit, leaving his better half at home.
This new lifestyle Matt finds himself in, on the road, away from home, performing "real" shows, also severely exacerbates his new sleeping condition, REM sleep behavior disorder. And while this sleep disorder aspect of the story seems the crux of Birbiglia's idea for his film, I don't find it completely necessary. Birbiglia's take on comedians' unique lifestyle and career challenges is compelling enough for me, and what keeps my interest most.
But I grew up watching stand up comedy (Mitch Hedberg and Brian Regan are among my childhood favorites), and I love watching films and shows about comedians. Perhaps they are so appealing because of the ironic truth that those who live to make others laugh, really feel miserable and pointless off stage.
Beyond the content, frank shots and narrative style by Birbiglia present the audience with a plain view of his story as it's unfolding. It is supposed to be plain. We understand exactly what we're meant to because of the narration an no-nonsense style. Birbiglia's extensive camera-staring time also gives him a chance to relate to the audience as the rest of his life shifts around him. I felt closer to him after the film. I now know his face, his belly, and how he talks, drives and eats. Initially I thought the narration was to disguise the poor acting of the cast, and while the acting isn't superb, I now think the film would have a drastically different (and less compelling) feel without Birbiglia checking in with his audience to spill his mind vomit on us between intense sequences or confusing scenes.
In my humble opinion, I think Mike Birbiglia should do less stand-up and write more films. I can only take so much of his stand-up act -- 30 minutes at most. But his 75-minute film doesn't feel like much time at all (except when his mother is speaking in her crackly, shrill voice). Birbiglia, similar to the highly-regarded comedian, Louis C.K., provides a refreshing narrative on comedic life, and what life really is -- not much.
This film has not been rated. (But if it were, it would be PG-13 for language.)
Companion Viewing: Louie (television series). We follow New York City comedian, Louie C.K., as he balances being funny and simultaneously terrible at life.
Nathan John is a former KPBS News Assistant and just couldn't stay away so now he is a guest blogger for Cinema Junkie.