By Caitlyn Collins | August 31, 2012
Directors: Mike Birbiglia, Seth Barrish
Writers: Mike Birbiglia, Ira Glass, Joe Birbiglia, Seth Barrish
Starring: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, James Rebhorn, Carol Kane, Sondra James, Alex Karpovsky, Ira Glass
Marriage is an interesting institution and one that has been talked about politically quite a bit in the last few years. Luckily, ideas toward marriage have evolved. For instance, I’m happy that my only lot in life does not involve having to find a husband, but rather to do whatever the hell I want. Films, particularly romantic comedies, still portray marriage as something women are desperate for and an idea men greatly fear. Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk with Me sort of caters to that notion, but also sort of bucks it.
To be honest, Matt Pandamiglio (Mike Birbiglia) is a bit pathetic, yet somehow familiar. He’s floating around in limbo and he doesn’t know where to go. It’s an experience I’m sure many viewers can relate to. Matt is stuck in a dead-end job as a bartender in a comedy club. It’s a similar idea to the cliche that all waiters and waitresses in New York City are really actors and actresses. Matt’s problem is that he’s not funny; he fumbles around on stage for his incredibly brief time slots regurgitating the same jokes that were once funny in college.
The best thing about Matt, or so everyone tells him, is his girlfriend of eight years, Abby (Lauren Ambrose). Life begins to fully unravel for Matt when his younger sister gets engaged to her boyfriend of three years. Matt’s overbearing parents, Frank (James Rebhorn) and Linda (Carol Kane), push Matt to get married because at least he’d be doing something with his life.
Sleepwalk with Me is an interesting approach to filmmaking. Birbiglia plays a fictionalized version of himself, but it’s questionable how fictionalized. The film opens with the character Matt (or is he really himself?) addressing the audience directly. This is a move I’ve only seen recently on television sitcoms, and on TV shows there is never a question of who is addressing the audience, actor or character. The fact that these direct moments of communication are interspersed throughout the film further blurs the fiction/non-fiction line.
Matt books a meagerly-paying stand-up gig with a college, and rather than see this as a low point, he’s enthusiastic about being given the opportunity to get paid for doing what he loves. Matt leaves Abby behind as he crisscrosses the country in his parents’ old station wagon. As Matt’s comedy routine gets better, his relationship with Abby seemingly declines.
There are genuine moments of laughter elicited from both Matt’s fictional audience as well as the film audience; none more so than with his sleepwalking scenes. Vivid dreams are fairly common, but I can’t imagine acting them out in my sleep. The further Matt goes with his comedy, pushing everything else away, the worse his sleepwalking episodes become. Pizza pillow anyone?
Sleepwalk with Me, co-written with This American Life’s Ira Glass, is a poignant and personal look into one man’s life. Matt decides what he can and cannot live without and who that may or may not include. The idea is to follow your dreams, a theme often seen in film, yet Sleepwalk with Me manages to present it in a fresh and relatable way. Birbiglia’s very title invites viewers into his most personal defining moments, causing sympathy, anger, laughter and awe simultaneously.