SXSW FILM 2012
By Don Simpson | March 17, 2012
Directors: Mike Birbiglia, Seth Barrish
Writers: Mike Birbiglia, Seth Barrish, Joe Birbiglia, Ira Glass
Starring: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, Hannibal Buress, Aya Cash, Wyatt Cenac, Lucy DeVito, Philip Ettinger, Ira Glass, Edward James Hyland, Sondra James, Carol Kane, Alex Karpovsky, John Lutz, Marc Maron, Emily Meade, Cristin Milioti, Amanda Perez, Henry Phillips, James Rebhorn, Kristen Schaal, Amy Schumer, David Wain, Loudon Wainwright III, Angelic Zambrana
In Sleepwalk With Me, writer-director Mike Birbiglia plays a fictionalized version of himself, Matt Pandamiglio, in a film based on his one-man, off-Broadway show — which also spawned a book, comedy album and segment on This American Life. We observe as Matt walks us through his eight-year relationship with Abbie (Lauren Ambrose) and his battles with REM behavior disorder. Occasionally, Matt self-referentially addresses the camera (and, therefore, us) directly; other times he provides voiceover narration — both techniques carry the heavy weight of extremely high rates of failure, but Birbiglia pulls them off with the confidence and verve of Woody Allen (circa Annie Hall) and John Cusack (circa Say Anything).
Matt’s downward spiral begins when he and Abby move into an apartment together. His parents — Frank (James Rebhorn) and Linda (Carol Kane) — push him to marry Abby; and Abby would definitely not say no if Matt ever proposed to her. But Matt is commitment-phobic and he uses his fledgling stand-up comedy career as an excuse to postpone taking the marital leap. Unfortunately, no one thinks that the same old jokes that he has been telling since college about Cookie Monster and the A-Team are funny anymore. Eventually Matt learns to integrate some personal, self-deprecating material to his set…and people love it! Next thing Matt knows, he is relentlessly touring the northeastern United States, taking any gig — no matter how low-paying — that is offered to him. Constantly being on the road temporarily helps him avoid making any decisions about what to do about his relationship with Abby; but the long drives and sleepless nights exasperate Matt’s sleepwalking disorder.
Sleepwalk With Me walks a very fine line with Matt’s vividly troublesome dreams — in which he wins a competition for house cleaning; enjoys a neck pillow made of pizza; and leaps out a second-floor window — but Birbiglia’s interpretations remain sympathetic to those who suffer from REM behavior disorder. Matt’s sleepwalking escapades, though incredibly creatively and hilariously portrayed, capture the grave seriousness of the dangers that people with REM behavior disorder must face. Not only does the untreated disorder place Matt in mortal danger, but it really screws up his relationship with Abby. Look on the bright side though, it gave him some really great comedic content!
Consistent with his stand-up routine, Birbiglia proves to be the master of clumsy, monotone delivery (not unlike Mitch Hedberg); he also possesses a keen knack for keeping the audience on his side, no matter what poor decisions Matt is making at any given time. My only wish is that Sleepwalk With Me would have ended differently. Birbiglia does not quite pull off the “jump forward several years” narrative wrap up; instead, it just feels like Birbiglia is confused about how and when to end the film.
Sleepwalk With Me won the Best Of NEXT audience award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and IFC Films has acquired North American rights to the film.