Sleepwalk with Me Review

(3.5 STARS)

Mike Birbiglia’s unique voice in his semi-autobiographical film, Sleepwalk with Me, is one of 2012’s sweetest, most satisfying cinematic treats. He wears three hats here—actor, writer, and director—and he’s extremely successful on each front. His on-screen persona is one best described as affably insecure. His writing bites and stings. And his aesthetic is playful but appropriately understated. Sure, Birbiglia has stacked the deck in his favor; Any filmmaker who chooses to tackle his own life’s story better pull it off. But Sleepwalk with Me gets at truths (in an often hilarious way, mind you) that extend beyond Birbiglia’s recent past.

One of the film’s many parallels to Birbiglia’s life—the lead character’s difficult-to-pronounce name. Matt Pandamiglio’s (Birbiglia) unassuming existence is defined by three things. The first is his eight-year relationship to Abby (Lauren Ambrose). Matt loves her, but the thought of tying the knot before accomplishing his goals is frightening. The second is his love of comedy. He bartends at a club on the off chance a few minutes open up between sets. When they do, the results are mostly embarrassing.

The third and most unusual of Matt’s defining qualities is his sleepwalking. His dreams are disturbingly vivid, and when he wakes up, he rarely finds himself next to Abby in bed. She tries to get him to enroll in a sleep study, but everything gets put on hold when he signs with an agent and starts booking D-level gigs. Even his relationship seems like it’s on the rocks; Matt is just having too much fun sleeping alone in cheap hotels and crashing and burning on college campuses and in VFWs across the Northeast.

Between gas, food, and lodging, Matt’s seemingly endless road trip is actually costing him money. He’s paid a pittance to do his sets, which begs the question: Why bother? As his material becomes more personal (and surprisingly more successful), he’s forced to ask himself if his relationship is one worth continuing. He remarks to an oddly enraptured audience that he can’t really face the thought of marriage until he knows that he’ll never make it as a comedian. Every laugh the joke earns, then, is like a stab at the heart of his and Abby’s relationship.

There aren’t easy answers to the questions he asks himself and us (in instances of worthwhile fourth-wall breaking). In fact, there might not be answers at all. But that he’s able to penetrate the “career vs. life” debate in a way that’s thoughtful, heartfelt, and genuinely funny earns Birbiglia and the film big points.

The sleepwalking issues might sound out of place, but Birbiglia integrates them quite well. They generate laughs but in a melancholy sort of way, just like his comedy sets. Ultimately, his condition drives him to make a big decision. It’s the year’s most unconventional plot device and the biggest reason why Sleepwalk with Me rises above your average self-discovery story.

Lauren Ambrose is really the only other individual who’s afforded the chance to leave an impression. It’s a decidedly positive one. Her Abby is formed mostly out of Matt’s insecurities, but Ambrose makes her qualities (even if they are often in conflict with one another) pop off the screen.

Perhaps the reason I responded so strongly to Sleepwalk with Me (besides the fact that it’s hilarious) is that it’s a difficult film to classify. There’s romance involved. It’s obviously a comedy. It covers material that’s often quite dramatic. And everything is tinged with a refreshing “offbeat-ness.” Since this is both his debut and his own story, it’s hard to say where Birbiglia goes from here. But as a big fan of this film (it’s a near lock for my end-of-year top ten list), I’ll proudly (sleep)walk with him wherever he goes.

Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *