Title: Sleepwalk With Me
Director: Mike Birbiglia
Starring: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane, Cristin Milioti, James Rebhorn, Marc Maron, Wyatt Cenac, Kristen Schaal, Jessi Klein
An appealingly low-key cinematic adaptation of director-star Mike Birbiglia’s autobiographical one-man show, “Sleepwalk With Me” is an amiable tale of beta-male discovery. Full of shaggy self-deprecation and wistful romantic realization, it serves as a sort of snapshot biography, charting Birbiglia’s first foot-in-the-water success as a touring stand-up comic, even as it comes at the cost of the dissolution of a long-term relationship, and against the backdrop of a rare sleep disorder.
It’s all true, Birbiglia assures viewers in a direct-address bumper that opens his film, one of several bits of wrap-around narration that frame the story from a place of more settled maturation. Apparently just the names have been changed. “Sleepwalk With Me” opens with Birbiglia’s stand-in, Matt, kind of drifting through life unhappily, tending bar in New York City while his girlfriend of eight years, Abby (Lauren Ambrose), works as a vocal coach. Matt wants to be a stand-up comedian, but the few minutes of open mic time he grabs at his place of employment aren’t doing much to advance any career goals. As the wedding of his younger sister Janet (Cristin Milioti) triggers conversations and perhaps overdue reflection about why he and Abby haven’t tied the knot, Matt finally lands an agent and starts touring the Northeast by car for $50 to $200 gigs. Trying to expand his set, Matt then delves into more personal and reflective relationship comedy.
Oh, and then there’s the sleepwalking stuff, which lends the movie its title, obviously. At first it’s funny (Abby wakes up to find Matt lecturing the hamper and believing it to be a jackal), but as things progress it becomes more of a distraction and even a potential danger for Matt. His father (James Rebhorn) keeps urging him to get it checked out, but Matt always has an excuse to postpone things, or not modify his behavior in a manner that might help reduce its occurrences.
“Sleepwalk With Me” isn’t groundbreaking, but what makes the movie engaging is its honesty and lack of pretension. Co-writers Ira Glass and Seth Barrish, along with Birbiglia and his brother Joe, craft a movie whose pivot points between its narrative proper and Birbiglia’s analytical breakdown of his own feelings and actions feel natural. Some of the dialogue is funny (falling in love is like “pizza-flavored ice cream,” Birbiglia asserts — a level of joy that the brain can’t comprehend), and there are also nicely captured moments of spot-on mini-triumph, as when Matt spends his first night on the road as a working comic, and basks in the glory of his crappy little hotel room.
The movie’s subtext — of forestalled adulthood, particularly male adulthood, and its relationship to other elements of modernity — could stand to be explored a bit more, either at the cost of some of Matt’s family segments or just additionally, since the movie only runs 80 minutes. But “Sleepwalk With Me” is still an enjoyable little treat — and a reminder that, yes, comedians have lives too.
Written by: Brent Simon