Review: Sleepwalk with Me


Mike Birbiglia is a jack of all trades. Primarily working as a comedian, he’s had a bevy of successful comedy albums, but he’s also written two off-Broadway plays, and has written a book, Sleepwalk With Me & Other Painfully True Stories. For his directorial debut, he’s adapted the main story from the aforementioned book, Sleepwalk with Me, which was also the subject of his first off-Broadway play.

Was Birbiglia able to strike gold for the third time with the film?

Sleepwalk with Me
Director: Mike Birbiglia
Rating: NR
Release Date: August 31, 2012

Matt Pandamiglio (Mike Birbiglia) is an aspiring stand-up comedian who has just moved in with his girlfriend of 8 years, Abby (Lauren Ambrose). After the two attend Matt’s sister’s wedding, tension begins to slowly rise between them as Abby begins to subtly push for marriage, while Matt is unsure of his life. As Matt’s anxiety begins to bubble, it begins to manifest itself in the form of sleepwalking. While his once-terrible comedic set begins to catch on as he opens up about his insecurities on the stage, his relationship begins to dwindle away.

The film plays out as Matt narrates sporadically throughout the film. These scenes are shot with him breaking the fourth wall. In fact, it starts with a funny anecdote advising viewers to turn off their phones. While not exactly out of the box, it’s a clever ploy to advance the plot across periods of time.

For a film based on the life of a stand-up comedian, Sleepwalk with Me isn’t very funny. Perhaps, that’s the point of the film; it’s more about the journey than the destination, right? Still, the film’s very light on both its drama and comedy. There must have been some loss in translation from play/book to film, because I could see some of the humor behing some of the anecdotes Birbiglia acts out. But much like any good joke, it’s all about the delivery, and I’m sad to say that shooting them cinematically loses some of the magic.

That’s not to say that the material doesn’t benefit from movie magic. Some of the dream sequences Matt has are well-shot and do bring a slight change of pace. It’s interesting to see how he progresses from a crappy to highly-demanded comedian, shedding some light on the life of a stand-up. However, beyond that, nothing really stands out in the film.

If I had to summarize the entire film into a word, it’d be “decent.” It follows the tried-and-true formula of moderate dramedies starring a protagonist facing a life crisis and learning how to deal and progress from it. While it’s a wholly personal film for Birbiglia, it’s pretty basic. If you were to take the quirks out of a Wes Anderson film, you’d probably end up with Sleepwalk with Me. This entire paragraph might come off as negative, but it’s really more moderate; there are worse ways you could spend an hour and a half with. It’s charming and humble, which you really can’t say about too many films these days.

Hubert Vigilla: If you listen to his stand-up or his appearances on This American Life, you know that Mike Birbiglia is a funny guy. Thing is, funny people have a tough time pretending to be unfunny — you can tell they’re holding back — which is why some of Sleepwalk With Me falls flat. But that’s really a side issue.

The main thing that kept me from fully enjoying Sleepwalk With Me was a matter of shape. When you see Birbiglia doing stand-up, the material works, and when Birbiglia addresses the camera like a radio broadcast, the material works, but when Sleepwalk With Me does its thing as a narrative film, it feels uneven. It has nothing to do with tone either since I enjoy funny-yet-melancholy relationship movies, and Sleepwalk With Me ends with a nice moment of recognition. There’s just a lack of focus despite some memorable moments and character acting. It might be an issue of time since 80-90 minutes of film is a different animal than 30 minutes at The Comedy Store or 10-50 minutes on Chicago Public Radio. Some parts of the movie even feel like filler or dead air, which is unfortunate since there’s something potent and heartfelt when the movie is at its best. Sleepwalk With Me is essentially a very good one-man show, radio essay, or narrative-driven stand-up routine forced into a movie that’s just sort of all right. – 60 – Decent