Sean K. Cureton

Recommendation of the Week: Sleepwalk With Me (2012)

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on September 28, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Theatrical Poster

Sleepwalk With Me (2012)
Directed by Mike Birbiglia and Seth Barrish
Netflix Rating: Liked It

Sleepwalk With Me is a 2012 comedy starring, written, and directed by stand up comedian Mike Birbiglia. Based in part on his own life experiences, an off-Broadway one-man show of the same name, as well as various bits from his past stand up material, Birbiglia’s first foray into motion pictures is a pleasant surprise, which proves to be just as eccentrically charming as Birbiglia’s stand up comedy. Produced and co-written by NPR’s Ira Glass, Sleepwalk With Me is unsurprisingly about how we tell stories about our own lives, focusing on how we view ourselves in relation to our own actions, those affected by our actions, as well as any lasting after effects. For Birbiglia, his own story has to do with his attempts to escape a marriage which he feels impelled to undergo by his parents and extended family, seeking the release offered by stand up comedy to come clean about his own insecurities and personal failings. In the process, an oddball comedy ensues, filled to the brim with surreal dream sequences, repressed desires, and a dangerous bout of sleepwalking.

Following in the tradition of such comedian-turned-filmmakers as Louis C.K. and Larry David, Mike Birbiglia’s film is a rough approximation of his actual personality, fictionalized to a certain extent through the use of another name. In the film, Mike Birbiglia becomes Matt Pandamigilo, and such famous comics as Marc Maron are rechristened with names like Marc Mulheren, which serves to lessen the otherwise immediate truthfulness of the story, turning the film into more of a fantastic anecdote than heartfelt apologetic. However, in contrast to such television shows as C.K.’s Louie or David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, Sleepwalk With Me also maintains much of the structuring and rhetoric employed in the stand up material from which much of the film’s plot has been culled. Rather than acting as another form of artistic expression meant to express a viewpoint fundamentally different from what can be expressed through stand up comedy, Birbiglia’s film is structured in the same style as Birbiglia’s one-man shows. Thus, Sleepwalk With Me feels like a cinematic rendering of a stand up set, as opposed to the sitcom-level exaggerated oddball antics of David on Curb, or the existentially ridiculous wanderings of C.K. on Louie.

Nevertheless, the ways in which Birbiglia has transformed his stand up material almost directly, and at times verbatim, into the cinematic form often comes off as feeling redundant of what he has already said. Instead of offering some new insight into the events that transpire over the course of the film, Birbiglia rehashes old bits and gags without any of their previous luster and bite. While the performances from such comic greats as Carol Kane, playing Birbiglia’s mother, or the stunning turn from Six Feet Under’s Lauren Ambrose as a former girlfriend reinvigorate Birbiglia’s story with a new vibrancy and set of voices, the underlying themes and points of argument remain the same. Instead of bringing new life to Birbiglia’s material, Sleepwalk With Me seems to bury much of Birbiglia’s better intentions under layers of overused theatrics and tired reminiscences. While the film is still a joy to watch and maintains a lot of the emotional honesty of Birbiglia’s original material, it often feels stillborn, lacking the sort of motivation and purpose that permeates Birbiglia’s stand up.

And yet, despite the inherent redundancy of Sleepwalk With Me’s subject matter and plot, Mike Birbiglia’s first feature film is still a solid comedy. The characters bump into each other in ways that are to be expected, they do silly, and often stupid, things to one another and themselves, and the ending is predictably uplifting, even if it doesn’t end in a marriage. Fans of Birbiglia’s stand up act will be sure to find a lot to enjoy, even if much of their enjoyment will rely chiefly in waiting for different one liners and plot points that they already know by heart. Sleepwalk With Me is a well made movie that examines the stand up comedian with a subtle intimacy, even if a more probing approach may have revealed a little more about the film’s subject. All in all, Birbiglia and co-writer Ira Glass have made an incredibly charming indie film, even if its charm outstays its welcome at times.

Sleepwalk With Me is available on Netflix Instant View, and is my Movies on Netflix: Recommendation of the Week.

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