Atlantic Film Festival 2012: ‘Sleepwalk with Me’ makes perfect use of Birbiglia’s comedic voice

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Sleepwalk with Me

Written by Mike Birbiglia, Joe Birbiglia

Directed by Mike Birbiglia, Seth Barrish

USA, 2012

Fans of Mike Birbiglia’s stand up and of his appearances on This American Life will already be familiar with some of Sleepwalk with Me’s material. The film follows aspiring stand up comedian Matt Pandamiglio (a thinly disguised version of himself) as he struggles with a dead end job, difficulties with his comedy and a relationship that has reached a plateau. If that wasn’t enough, he suddenly, for the first time in his life, begins to sleepwalk. He soon discovers that he may be suffering from Rapid Eye Movement Behaviour Disorder. This extremely rare condition causes him to act out whatever he is dreaming about with dire consequences to himself and others. At one point, the condition leads him to jump out of a hotel window.

Familiarity with Birbiglia’s comedy neither helps nor hurts the enjoyment of this film. Sleepwalk with Me is a warm and intensely personal look at life and the choices we all make. Though the setting and circumstances of stand up comedy and a sleepwalking disorder are highly specific, we can all sympathize and relate to Birbiglia’s struggles. His highly candid, observational style of comedy lends itself well to this kind of film. Voiceover narration can often be big miss but it works perfectly in this film which is interspersed with Birbiglia offering us present-day perspective on his past actions. “I know…I, too, am in the future”, he quips after a particularly cringe-inducing past decision.

Aside from Birbiglia’s own affable person, the movie features a cast of wonderful characters. From Matt’s bickering parents played with great skill by James Rebhorn and Maggie Kemper to HBO’s Girls’ Alex Karpovsky as a rival comedian to Lauren Ambrose as Matt’s longtime girlfriend, Abby. Ambrose in particular manages to give warmth and humanity to a character that, in another movie, might be played as the annoying girlfriend who needs to be gotten rid of. Here, however, their problems make sense and Birbiglia’s writing and direction is careful to make it clear that nobody is particularly at fault here. These are people who at one time loved each other but have found themselves years later wanting different things.

A perfect blend of humour, heart and pathos, Sleepwalk with Me, makes perfect use of Birbiglia’s comedic voice to elevate what might otherwise be a slight story into a highly enjoyable time at the movies.

– Laura Holtebrinck

Learn more about Sleepwalk with Me at AFF 2012 and the Atlantic Film Festival.

For more of Mike Birbiglia’s work, check out his contributions to This American Life.

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