Channeling vintage Woody Allen, but more importantly channeling vintage Mike Birbiglia, Sleepwalk With Me is a smart, neurotic slice-of-life comedy about a stand-up comic with confidence issues, commitment issues, and career issues. Maybe he isn't all that good, he thinks. Certainly the (very) few folks in the audience on his third-tier comedy tour don't look that amused.
Already a hit Off-Broadway show and a best-selling book, Sleepwalk With Me (the movie!) stars Birbiglia in the role of struggling stand-up guy Matt Pandamiglio, tracking our hero as he gets battered by a perfect storm of internal and external forces, not to mention a bizarre sleep disorder that puts his physical well-being in jeopardy.
Directed by Birbiglia, who also offers a running - well, actually a driving - narration, addressing the camera from behind the wheel of a car, Sleepwalk With Me is required viewing for the comedian and monologist's fans, and a revelation for folks who don't know a Birbiglia from a Pandamiglio. Imagine Paul Rudd crossed with Seth Rogen - sensitive, schlumpy, bright-eyed, and self-deprecating. Birbiglia, is, of course, Birbiglia, but for points of reference the two Judd Apatow regulars share not only physiognomic characteristics, but a comedic sensibility, too.
The drama in Sleepwalk With Me spins around Matt's reluctance to marry his longtime live-in girlfriend, Abby (Lauren Ambrose). She is beautiful and supportive - what's not to love? His parents (Carol Kane, James Rebhorn) approve, and a grandkid wouldn't be bad, either. But something is nagging in Matt's head. Eight years on, he still can't commit.
The other thing in Matt's head is his dreams: As his anxiety levels amp up over his relationship with Abby, and over the zigzagging circuit of bars and college auditoriums his septuagenarian agent (a very amusing Sondra James) sends him on, he starts experiencing nightmares. This would be bad enough on its own, but Matt suffers from REM sleep-behavior disorder, in which the dreamer interacts with his dream environment. If Matt is being chased by jackals in his sleep, then he gets out of bed and starts running. If there's a window to dive through to escape, he's likely to dive through it. Injury is imminent.
The turning point in Matt's career comes when, one night, after another lukewarm reception for his 15 minutes of gags, he expresses his frustration to a vastly more successful colleague - comedian Marc Maron - and the subject of marriage comes up.
"I've decided I'm not going to get married until I'm sure that nothing else good can happen in my life," Matt says, not trying to be funny at all. But it is funny, and Maron tells him so. Matt puts the line in his act, and then more material culled from his relationship, his worries and woes. The closer Matt gets to revealing who he really is, and what he really thinks, the more audiences respond. But the more he is betraying Abby, too.
Sleepwalk With Me, then, is a story of self-discovery, of overcoming obstacles, of finding one's path in life. And Birbiglia has found his: It's telling the truth, and turning it into a very funny, very accomplished film.
Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.