Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
Sleepwalk With Me is a short but effective comedic detour. Adapted from Mike Birbiglia’s off-broadway show and memoir of the same title, the film is a nice little pick-me-up. Like the spots on NPR’s This American Life from which the material was born, the content is subtle and fresh, something to be filed away and shared with friends over drinks or recalled weeks later, but nothing more.
Birbiglia plays a version of himself called Matt Pandamiglio, a bartender and aspiring stand-up comedian in a bit of a rut. His parents (James Rebhorn and Carol Kane) want him to settle down with Abby (Lauren Ambrose), his girlfriend of eight years, and though the two move in together, Matt has little interest in marriage. As Abby and others push the matter, the stress manifests itself in the form of sleepwalking with increasingly dangerous results. Dodging confrontation by accepting gigs across the East coast and midwest, Matt begins to find his voice as a comic, but at what cost to the relationship and his health?
Co-written and co-directed by Birbiglia, Sleepwalk With Me is capably but not ambitiously made. Guided by a likable lead, the material is most successful as a straightforward narrative. It’s funny and honest without feeling overly-scripted and the scenes flow at an active clip. As an added bonus, recognizable comedy faces pop up throughout, including Kristen Schaal (“Flight of the Conchords”), Alex Karpovsky (Tiny Furniture), and John Lutz (“30 Rock”), each of whom further the humor in their own enjoyable manner.
When the film deviates from its core approach, however, it doesn’t fare as well. Throughout the story, present-day Matt directly addresses the camera in his car on the way to a gig, dropping unnecessary anecdotes that detract from an otherwise engaging tale. These asides intend to add an extra layer of authenticity and connection to the narrator, but the film would be stronger without them. A similar awkwardness permeates the sleepwalking scenes, which, though key to the story, employ a visual and tonal style that fails to mesh with its surrounding parts. The disorder these sequences depict may be likewise incongruous with Matt’s life, but are distinct to the point of annoyance.
A larger issue, however, is apparent throughout Sleepwalk With Me, but may not be a factor for those familiar with Barbiglia’s work. Comedians who’ve successfully made the transition from stand-up to television and/or film have done so by separating their on-stage personas from their off-stage characters. Jerry Seinfeld, Louis C.K., and others make this distinction exceedingly well and that level of control is a major reason why they’re among the industry’s best.
Matt’s monotone, by contrast, is glaringly consistent in both settings. Without such a line, the film feels like one giant monologue, which, try as he may, Birbiglia likewise cannot carry, even for 70some minutes. (It’s also telling that the film’s funniest scene, involving a lip-syncing contest, has almost nothing to do with our hero.) Toward the end, partial growth is seen while Matt develops his voice (in the form of some much-needed excitement and volume), but overall there’s still far too much similarity.
Expecting more from a film made primarily by radio talent may be unfair, and even with these knocks, Sleepwalk With Me is too funny and truthful to dismiss. Suddenly over without sapping too much of the day, it’s not a film that inspires shouting from the rooftops. Instead, it’s one to inspire similar humorous, honest confessions with confidents as the days wear on, something that Birbiglia was probably after all along.
Sleepwalk With Me opens Friday, September 7 at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
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