- Running time:
- 90 minutes
- Lauren Ambrose -
- Mike Birbiglia -
- Hannibal Burress -
- Wyatt Cenac -
- William C. Dement -
Much of Mike Birbiglia's waking life in Sleepwalk With Me is a nightmare.
Nothing seems to go right for the comedian, or his alter ego, a character named Matt Pandamiglio.
But the film (* * * ½ out of four, unrated, opens Friday in select cities), based on Birbiglia's stand-up act and off-Broadway show, is a dream for fans of offbeat, well-written, subtly acted projects.
The semi-autobiographical tale is appealingly low-key and alternately funny and melancholy, informed by Birbiglia's casual delivery. Birbiglia directs himself and his sharp ensemble cast deftly, fusing a non-linear narrative with comedy routines and voice-over narration that includes directly addressing the audience. This blend of formats suits Birbiglia's style and the weird subject matter ideally.
In addition to chronicling his arrested development, love of pizza and distaste for marriage, Birbiglia tackles the challenges of a career in comedy and probes the contours of evasion and dishonesty. These elements are almost as intriguing, though not as attention-grabbing, as the crazy stuff Pandamiglio does while snoozing.
Birbiglia's extreme sleepwalking saga first surfaced on Ira Glass' public-radio show, This American Life. The film, co-written and produced by Glass, is already a modest sensation, given its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and the jokingly vengeful Web campaign that TheAvengers director Joss Whedon has waged against it.
Pandamiglio works as a bartender in a comedy club, and his stand-up gigs are few. When they do occur, they're sparsely attended and poorly compensated. Abby (Lauren Ambrose), his longtime girlfriend, yearns for a wedding. Pandamiglio couldn't be further from sharing that dream. His parents nag him about his lack of success.
In the midst of these problems, he becomes a somnambulist. In a slumbering state, he takes first to leaping about his bedroom and later to jumping out a hotel window.
Because of what he later learns is REM sleep behavior disorder, Pandamiglio crawls out of bed and begins attacking a clothes hamper, yelling: "There's a jackal in the room!"
Later, he wins first place at the Dustbuster Olympics in one of several cleverly conceived dream sequences. When he sleepwalks into a friend's shower fully dressed and gets drenched, the friend tells him, "You're not supposed to actually act them out like that. They're like movies. You just sort of watch them."
Glass' script and Birbiglia's offhand manner, bolstered by sharp self-awareness, render the experiences drolly humorous. Birbiglia comments about his behavior and feelings in a monotone voice. "It all started when Abby and I moved in together. … It just didn't feel like my life was on sure footing," he explains. Later, en route to another pitiful gig, he reminds the audience, "Remember you're on my side."
Despite the inherent potential for humor, Birbiglia is also painfully aware that this malady is a dangerous proposition.
Movie theaters and showtimes for Sleepwalk With Me in Detroit.
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