Review: Sleepwalk With Me
PLOT: A stand-up comic (Mike Birbiglia) juggles the demands of his career with those of his devoted girlfriend (Lauren Ambrose) - whoís looking to settle down. Meanwhile, he struggles with bouts of sleepwalking.
REVIEW: As I write this, Iím kicking myself for having missed SLEEPWALK WITH ME at Sundance. It was there as part of the NEXT selection, and as in years past, I was too busy with the higher-profile films to squeeze it in. Since then, two critic friends of mine have told me about how great it is, and fresh from a record breaking single theater release in LA, I was finally able to catch up with it.
SLEEPWALK WITH ME is the brainchild of writer-director-star Mike Birbiglia- and based on his one-man show that ran a few years ago on Broadway. Apparently, this is a semi-autobiographical story, with his character, Mike Pandamiglio being a fictionalized version of himself. (Birbiglia is also reportedly prone to bouts of sleepwalking) The film charts his early days as a struggling stand-up, with his stale material being jeered by audiences, and his spending most of his time working as a bartender at a comedy club, only going on stage in the event of last minute cancelations. The only bright spot is his home life, with his pretty, loving girlfriend Abby (Ambrose) being supportive- although after nine years together, sheís pressuring him to get married.
Knowing that if he settles down, heíll have to get his life together, Mike takes a different tact- signing on with a small-scale agent, and taking any penny-ante gig that comes up-with him driving hundreds of miles at one point to take a university gig MCíing a lip-synching contest. As if things werenít bad enough, heís started sleepwalking but- when heís forced to use his own life as material after coming up short on-stage, his career actually starts to heat up- bringing things to a head with Abby- whoís unaware sheís become stand-up fodder.
To its credit, SLEEPWALK WITH ME doesnít go the standard route of having Birbigliaís character embark on some kind of journey of self-discovery thatís going to lead him back to a happy and stable relationship. Although Abby is portrayed as a wonderful partner, with the luminescent Ambrose (of SIX FEET UNDER) playing the kind of girl anyone would be thrilled to end up with- youíll still sympathize with Birbigliaís trepidation about settling into a life of normalcy. While he makes some mistakes along the way, Birbigliaís a very sympathetic, extremely likable lead, and I enjoyed his low-key (rather than low-brow) humor. In addition to his one-man show, Birbigliaís been popping up here and there- including a quick stint on GIRLS (co-star Alex Karpovsky also appears here) and recurring appearances on PRIís THIS AMERICAN LIFE- with host Ira Glass on board SLEEPWALK as a producer.
Running a breezy eighty minutes, SLEEPWALK WITH ME also serves as an intriguing insiderís look at the work-a-day life of a middling stand-up comic. The camaraderie of the stand-ups, and the exhausting, thankless nature of some of the gigs are on full display- but it had to be said that even if itís one that doesnít offer a lot of financial or emotionally stability, itís presented as attractive nonetheless.
Birbiglia also directs SLEEPWALK, and while itís probably pretty low-budget- it doesnít really look it, and is directed with flair and style. Hopefully SLEEPWALK WITH MEís theatrical distribution will continue to expand, as itís a very accessible film that could easily play to a mainstream audience. At its heart, it tells a very relatable story about how sometimes, putting love first isnít necessarily the answer- which is certainly contrary to most mainstream relationship comedies. Itís a refreshing, vibrant film- and I expect weíll be seeing lots more of Birbiglia in the years to come.
|Extra Tidbit:||Judd Apatow & Joss Whedon have both gone on record about how much they enjoyed this film.|