“Sleepwalk With Me” may not have been a film that you have heard of, but it’s certainly one you should be looking into. It’s one of those gems that can so easily fall through the cracks if the right people don’t talk it up and get it around. This is comedian Mike Birbiglia’s feature film debut as a writer/director/star, and it’s absolutely great. As someone who is only vaguely familiar with some of Birbiglia’s stand up routine, I can’t say how much of this film comes directly from his off Broadway show of the same name or his memoir which also shares the title “Sleepwalk With Me.” All I’m familiar with is the film itself and some of its influences.
Right off the bat, it’s clear that Birbiglia has a little Woody Allen in him. I know Woody Allen’s already pretty little, but I’m referring to the influence of the man who made a few little movies like “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” or “Hannah and Her Sisters.” Regardless of whether you’ve seen or heard of those or not, Birbiglia certainly has and in the very first scene we’re introduced to his fourth wall breaking storytelling technique that’s very inspired by “Annie Hall.” Birbiglia plays Matt Pandamiglio, a man who’s struggling with a lot of things in his life. You see, he’s been with a college girlfriend for eight years now and this concept of marriage won’t seem to go away. He dreams of being a comedian, but he’s stuck in a point where coming up with material and actually getting out there is a little beyond his reach, so he settles for working at a bar where comics sometimes perform. Add to that that Matt is beginning to sleepwalk among other sleep activities. He’s got more than a full plate.
The story is told by our protagonist directly to the audience very consciously. This breaking of the fourth wall is a wonderful gag that works to further the story as well as illicit laughter just about every time. There’s that self deprecating sense of humor as a slightly old Matt talks to the camera about the actions of younger Matt and the (sometimes regrettable) choices he goes on to make. No doubt the film is mirroring Birbiglia’s own struggles to become the man he is today, so the hindsight he is able to provide as the narrator of his own story comes off as nothing less than sincere.
In fact, sincerity is the film’s single strongest point. A film made by a comedian about being a comedian could easily have gone a more dramatized or silly route and become something that only comedians would find funny. I’m no comedian, nor are the majority of filmgoers, and Birbiglia understands this very well. He makes every character and emotion completely sincere, particularly in his acting which, though it may not be much of a stretch for him to play a character that’s much like himself, it helped me get completely sucked into the film. The supporting cast made up of Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane, James Rebhorn, and Cristi Milioti as Matt’s girlfriend, sister, and parents all play their parts perfectly so that we’re not just seeing a bunch of silly antics that Matt is straight man to. This is perhaps the most surprising thing about a film like this; it’s a real story with real characters.
Oh, and did I mention the film is also completely hysterical? Deadpan humor and great writing serve to make this one of the funniest films of 2012. Particularly, Matt’s sleepwalking antics are phenomenally approached and the payoff in each one, though you know it’s all a dream, always got a great laugh. Just like young Woody Allen in “Annie Hall,” we see here a comedian’s journey to find himself, how love fits into life, and how to be happy. Though the films share some of these similarities, there’s one huge difference that must be stated: Mike Birbiglia and Woody Allen have very different approaches to life and to humor.
The protagonist that Birbiglia crafts here is funny, likable, and ultimately responsible. There are a number of flaws he possesses, but in the end he’s a good guy. He makes mistakes and feels bad about them. This is the fundamental difference between the Birbiglia protagonist and the Allen one: Alvy Singer (of “Annie Hall”) is ultimately a selfish jerk who’s extremely entertaining whereas Matt Pandamiglio is a hilarious, nice man who succumbs to temptations. Right there we have a character who is much easier to root for and one who you feel like you want to know in real life. He’s down to earth, easy to relate to, and a pleasure to watch.
In the end, this whole film is simply wonderful. You need not put on your philosophical thinking cap nor clear three hours from your schedule. All you need to do is relax and let the film take you to all the great places it has in store and you’ll be immensely entertained. I know I was. “Sleepwalk With Me” as strong a debut as any that have come out lately and it really deserves to be cherished. Do yourself a favor and watch it as soon as possible.
“Sleepwalk With Me” is currently playing in a limited release in the US and is available on Video On Demand.
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