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Sleepwalk with Me

2012 | 81 min | Not rated | 1.85:1

Sleepwalk with Me


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Theatrical release date

 24 August, 2012

Country of origin

 United States



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Sleepwalk with Me


Sleepwalk with Me Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, September 13, 2012

Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk with Me” began life as a stand-up comedy piece before it was quickly transformed into a National Public Radio story, a comedy album, a Broadway show, and a book. And now it’s a movie. Not bad for a charming, mildly horrifying tale of sleep disorder and a life devoted to comedy tested by the pitchfork poke of domestic routine. Bravo to the gifted Birbiglia for his ability to reinvent the material for a diverse range of formats, with each stop on the “Sleepwalk with Me” creative tour revealing newfound emotional angles while basically rehashing the same jokes. Despite its intimate origin and spasms of humor, Birbiglia’s tale of woe makes a soft, easy landing on the big screen, finding a fresh approach to slide outsiders into the comedian’s world, while longtime fans will have fun discovering unexplored corners of the sleepless saga.

An aspiring comedian, Mike Pandamigilo (Mike Birbiglia) tends bar at a local comedy club, working up the nerve and the material to make it as a stand-up. In a relationship with Abby (Lauren Ambrose) for eight years, Mike is unsure how to break up with his longtime love while the couple careens toward inevitable questions of marriage and babies. Working to make his comedy dream happen, Mike accepts the worst opportunities the vocation has to offer, hoping to score a few bucks and get away from the confusion of his love life. Mike also has a trouble with sleepwalking, a disorder that’s growing increasingly dangerous as the days pass, leaving the groggy guy in horribly unsafe positions during the night. With his career taking off, Mike ignores his nighttime habits and the question of Abby, leaving his life a wreck, much to the dismay of his parents (James Rebhorn and Carol Kane).

Produced and co-written by Ira Glass, host of “This American Life,” and co-written/directed by Birbiglia, “Sleepwalk with Me” retains its core appeal as a one-man story, with the star guiding viewers through the film in an informal manner that preserves the stand-up origins of the piece, despite its pronounced serio-comic directions. It’s a comfort zone for the creator, controlling how the information of his life is presented to the judgmental world, and it works, with pleasing low-fi cinematography maintaining the confessional atmosphere about the material, while Birbiglia himself is a natural on-camera performer, retracing the rise of his doofy stage persona (ditched before his Broadway debut) with a comfortable cinematic closeness that’s alien to the material, yet managed superbly in the picture.

“Sleepwalk with Me” is an indie film take on a personal problem, and while the script is credited to four men, the focus remains on Birbiglia and his habitual responses to difficulties with intimacy. Strangely, Mike’s rejection of marital life with Abby and his aversion to commitment remains a question mark, brushed aside as reluctance to engage a partner with loving disdain like his parents have done over 30 years of marriage. All these “Sleepwalk with Me” incarnations, and the true question of girlfriend refusal remains unanswered, finding Birbiglia welcoming confidence to a certain point before backing away gently. The rest of the movie doesn’t suffer from the same ambiguity, hitting strong points of professional poise and the power of life experiences, while understanding the anxiety of the comedian’s life, delivering a few vivid scenes of performance agony and club atmosphere, with one exchange shared highlighting podcaster extraordinaire Marc Maron, here playing Marc Mulheren. The name-change thing I simply don’t comprehend.

It’s a fragile film, dealing with an issue of delicate personal sensitivity that often prolongs the inevitable, finding tender moments shared between Abby and Mike heartbreaking in their silences. There are also the sleepwalking excursions, encouraging hearty laughs and gasps of horror, captured with ideal delirium by the production, who thankfully pump the brakes in terms of overt comedy to play the dreamscape moments sparingly, with ample disorientation to support Mike’s journey into denial.

The “Sleepwalk with Me” movie is a comfortable entry point into the rhythms and humor of Mike Birbiglia, creating a visual representation of his act that aids in the appreciation of its fragility. It’s a film of great humor and insight, but most importantly, it retains Birbiglia’s personality, keeping the master of ceremonies and his whirlwind life of heartache and nocturnal activity beautifully intact.

Starring: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane, Kevin Barnett, Cristin Milioti, Emily Meade
Directors: Mike Birbiglia, Seth Barrish

» See full cast & crew

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