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Sleepwalk With Me | Review

Boldly Sleepwalking From The Stage To The Silver Screen

Standup comedian Mike Birbiglia has taken his personal tale of failed relationships, comedic development, and serious sleep disorders to the stage, the page, and finally to the big screen with Sleepwalk With Me. The conversion between mediums is flawless, as it gains a variety of story expanding tricks this time around that can only come with the visual format. Birbiglia’s marvelous directorial debut marks a potentially monumental pivot point in his already eclectic career.

In order to avoid misrepresentation of the people in his life, Birbiglia’s story has been marginally fictionalized. Mike is now Matt, but they are one and the same. To everyone but him, his relationship of eight years seems bound for marriage, but once he decides to hit the road with his developing comic set, it becomes quite clear that his heart is elsewhere. Meanwhile, his strange habit of acting out his dreams while still asleep is becoming increasingly more dangerous.

Matt speaks plainly to the audience with the hindsight of a regretful entertainer who knows all too well the mistakes he’s made, but it is in these moments of humiliation that the heartache is replaced with humor. While his relationship going sour and his unconscious mental instability are obvious sore spots, he converts them into entertaining truth based stories laced with intelligent, relate-able observations. His journey to self realization was lined with red flags, but his decision to turn a blind eye in favor of comfort left quite a tale to tell.

The story is populated by a wonderful cast, particularly the immediately personable Lauren Ambrose as Abby, Matt’s long time girlfriend. Birbiglia has brought in fellow comics to play in his fictionalized clubs, as well as Carol Kane and James Rebhorn to play his neurotic parents. Writer and producer Ira Glass even makes an appearance as a meticulous wedding photographer. Despite all of the comedians aboard, the film feels completely natural and alive. Birbiglia’s debut pulls from his experiences on stage and the relationships he’s made within the business while acknowledging those who influenced him. Marc Maron, a man known for his blunt honesty, plays a veteran comic with career altering advice, and a clip of the late, great Mitch Hedberg plays in the background of one scene as a nod to Mike’s deceased friend. The comedy scene found on screen is portrayed with an authenticity only a working comic or touring musician could fully appreciate.

Sleepwalk With Me is a startling debut that takes Birbiglia’s already successful stage production and presents it to larger audiences than a limited run off-Broadway show could ever provide. Mike has a knack for finding the comedic in everyday experience, and he captures that ability with confidence and grace, and pairs it with his absurd, yet genuine dream sequences that bring a slight air of worry despite their obvious humor. He’s already hard at work on his next stage production with My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, a story that, with any luck, could potentially become Birbiglia’s sophomore feature that proves this isn’t just a successful one time fluke.

Reviewed on January 24 at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival – NEXT Programme.

90 Mins.

Rating 4 stars

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