Title: Sleepwalk With Me
Director: Mike Birbiglia and Seth Barrish
Cast: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, Cristin Milioti, Aya Cash, Marylouise Burke, Loudon Wainwright III, James Rebhorn and Carol Kane
Mike Birbiglia is a strange breed of comedian. He doesn’t really rely on punchlines and zingers but rather he takes the approach of storytelling. He has a great voice for storytelling, which translates into an engaging experience. His standup shows are hilarious. He’s one of the few alternative comedians that can tell a good story without delivering a lot of laughs. But when those laughs hit, they are full of impact. You can just tell that the stories he’s telling on stage are personal, which makes laughing with him twice as enjoyable. In his first film, “Sleepwalk With Me,” he takes his stage show and standup set and translates them to the big screen. Does it work? I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, yes! Yes, it does!
The story follows Matt Pandamiglio (Mike Birbiglia) an aspiring comedian who is in an 8 year relationship with Abby (Lauren Amberson). Matt can’t commit to taking the next step with Abby, while taking a journey to achieve his ultimate goal of being a comedian. Matt also suffers from a heavy case of sleepwalking, where he actually acts out his dreams. All around him, the people who love him want to do right by the couple. But Matt’s reluctancy, keeps everyone at bay.
From the opening of this film, Mike Birbiglia automatically breaks down the barriers between the audience and the film by addressing the audience to turn off their cell phones. This entry point is refreshing in the way that Birbiglia pulls it off. At points, it reminded me of an Albert Brooks film like “Real Life” or “Modern Romance.” He continues this style through the film to give insight to the events as they unfold. I was very delighted by the trust he puts on the audience to follow and laugh along with him. The dynamic between Birbiglia and Ambrose is spectacular! It feels authentic, going from playful and flirty to resentful and cold. It seems so personal that you can’t help but be sympathetic to these characters.
“Sleepwalk With Me” plays like a version of “High Fidelity,” only instead of music, it uses comedy, and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” in ways of its surreal moments. It’s not afraid to be strange when Birbiglia takes us through a journey through his dreams, but it’s always grounded with sincere relationships and character moments. It’s a fine line to balance these elements in a rewarding way so I have to commend Mike Birbiglia and co-director Seth Barrish for delivering a wonderfully strange movie.
The idea of dissolution is brought up time and time again as it relates to Matt Pandamiglio’s career and relationship with Abby. Birbiglia makes the point early on in the film that a comedian needs a certain level of dissolution to continue to develop their craft. The only real practice involved is actually going in front of an audience and bomb, over and over again. This theme is continues throughout the film, as it goes to heart of it involving Matt and Abby’s relationship. A pretty clever way to endear the audience to all of the narrative elements.
I fully recommend “Sleepwalk With Me” as it serves as one of the best films playing at the Sundance Film Festival as a sweet and personal movie. Mike Birbiglia has a presence on stage and on the screen, and from that we can see why he is one of the best alternative comedians out there.