Starring Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, James Rebhorn, Carol Kane, Cristin Milioti, Aya Cash, Marylouise Burke, Loudon Wainwright III, Marc Maron
Directed by Mike Birbiglia (with co-director Seth Barrish)
Expectations: Pretty high.
Sleepwalk With Me is the type of movie that would be easy to come down on either side of. If you’re not that interested in stand-up comedy, particularly the beginnings of a stand-up’s career, then a lot of Sleepwalk With Me won’t resonate as well as it could. The film is about more than this, but it’s steeped in the culture so those without an affinity for it might be bored. But this is exactly as it should be in this particular film, because its writer/director/star is Mike Birbiglia, a great comic who’s taken a very successful one-man show and fashioned it into a narrative film. I’d also say a healthy dose of love for Woody Allen is in order for those considering this film, as it has something of that feel, while still being its own thing too.
On top of the stand-up storyline, we also have Mike’s relationship with his long-time girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose). They’re happy, but he’s not ready to take the relationship further, while she’s basically in a holding pattern waiting for him to get there. And, as the title suggests, Mike is a sleepwalker (and no, that doesn’t mean he turns into a cat) and it’s becoming more and more of an issue. Of course, he also doesn’t want to visit a doctor, which would acknowledge the problem and take that part of his life (the “you have medical problems because you’re getting older” part) to the next level. So to say that Mike has some issues to deal with is an understatement.
So if you can’t relate to any of this, I can’t imagine this movie doing much for you. It’s really well-made, wonderfully acted, impeccably shot, but without a connection to one or all of these main pieces, I don’t think it would completely work. But I don’t know, maybe I’m way off base. Mike Birbiglia didn’t become Mike Birbiglia by just playing to half-full houses of broken people who like stand-up and Woody Allen. I just feel like some might call this something of a self-serving film because it does fictionalize real events in Birbiglia’s life, and it would be easy to come down on him for thinking his story is so great that it’s worth telling, not just in one medium but in several.
But honestly, I do think the story is that good. The sleepwalking angle is definitely the most interesting, but as someone that always wanted to make something of himself somewhere in the arts (this website being the most recent and arguably most successful incarnation of that), I greatly enjoyed all the trials and tribulations of a comic’s early life seen here. Oftentimes success hinges on a couple of key, coincidental moments in one’s life, and these moments are perfectly represented here. It would be easy and cynical to call these out as the movie moments that wouldn’t happen in real life, but if you listen to any story of success, more often than not there’s some tale of how a few fortuitous events changed their lives. It’s not just that, of course, there’s also a ton of time and hard work put in on the part of the person, but you get the point.
Sleepwalk With Me walks the line between deeply fractured drama and darkly funny comedy very well. The film is able to create its own reality better than many films because of this, as life is always something of a balancing act between the two. Mike Birbiglia may be a comic first and foremost, but based on the quality seen here I hope he gets to make another film somewhere down the line.