“Sleepwalk With Me” was co-directed by and stars Mike Birbiglia, an obscure but generally well-respected comedian, and he based the movie on a story/monologue that over the years has taken the form of standup routines, a one man show, an essay collection and a popular This American Life episode.
The last of which led to Ira Glass co-producing and co-writing the movie. I’m curious to know how Birbiglia’s current wife feels about his basing his entire career on that one particular ex-girlfriend story.
The movie, which is barely 80 minutes long, stars Birbiglia as a struggling stand-up comedian who’s been dating his significantly out-of-his-league girlfriend (Lauren Ambrose) for eight years, yet she’s just now starting to push for marriage and children. Bartending at a Brooklyn comedy club and occasionally road-tripping to depressing college gigs, Birbiglia must also deal with his nagging parents (James Rebhorn, Carol Kane) and a sleep disorder which causes him to sleepwalk and “act out” his dreams.
Some of the life-of-comedians stuff is compelling, and it’s admirable that Birbiglia was able to get a movie made in which he’s the lead actor and director, when he isn’t really an actor or director. But overall, this is pretty weak stuff, glaringly derivative of “Annie Hall” and other movies like it. In the end, it’s yet another cinematic examination of men’s fear of commitment- because really, it’s about time some filmmaker took a look at that subject.
The other problem is Birbiglia himself- he’s just not that charismatic a leading man, and what we see of his standup act is pretty pedestrian. And why did it take him almost a decade into his career as a comic to realize that maybe he should try putting anecdotes from his personal life into his act? The direction is pretty bare-bones too, and the way the dream/sleepwalking sequences are filmed is never especially impressive or funny.
It also doesn’t help that the film is full of cameos from performers- Marc Maron, Kristen Schaal, Jessi Klein, Wyatt Cenac- who are considerably funnier and more interesting screen presences than the protagonist. In particular Alex Karpovsky, from Girls, shows up in two scenes, and I’d have much rather have watched a movie about him.
Besides “Annie Hall,” the other work casting a huge shadow over “Sleepwalk With Me” is Louie, Louis C.K.’s brilliant, groundbreaking FX series that also deals with the everyday relationship neuroses of a working comic. The difference is, “Louie” is much more poignant and creative, he puts a lot more effort into the filmmaking and his standup routines are actually funny. There isn’t a single thing this movie attempts that every episode of Louie doesn’t do better.