‘Sleepwalk’ Depicts Both Real Life Laughs And Relatable Struggles
Published: Sunday, September 16, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
The initial trailer for Sleepwalk With Me is peppered with stand-up comic Mike Birbiglia’s awkward droll, dry delivery, and most of all, witticisms about real life – like justifying serious relationships by satirizing them. Or is he? What this film does specifically for the audience is show independent filmgoers that Birbiglia can do more than just prepare a comedy routine for a televised special. Or, as his character Matt Pandamiglio learns (that’s right—this is the name Birbiglia chose for himself), that you can successfully perform a half-hour set with only 11 minutes of material—even if you totally tank it. It can still be done, no matter how poorly executed it may be.
What’s eerily funny about this movie is that the audience sees how real a problem sleep deprivation is for comedians. Pissing away your money for gas on thousand-mile trips over a few days in a P.O.S. vehicle to only get a chunk of change in return, in addition to the world’s worst plate of chicken fingers, isn’t glamorous. Quite frankly, it sucks. When all is said and done, the life of a comedian, for the most part, just isn’t always funny. It’s more or less the punchline of a joke.
Anyone can relate. Struggling to obtain that ever-so-hard-to-grasp American Dream—to become someone who isn’t struggling. Struggles cause stress, whether it’s feeling trapped in a relationship, avoiding your overbearing parents, comparing your life with your sister’s picture-perfect one, or even realizing your own loser status. These will always provide fodder for great comedic material because all you can do at the end of the day is laugh — or jump out a two-story window because your anxiety level reaches so high you actually enact your dreams where you jump out a window — which is funny. That is, when it’s Birbiglia, and not you.
Lauren Ambrose (Can’t Hardly Wait, Six Feet Under) has a quietly great performance as Pandamiglio’s long-term squeeze of eight years, playing the girl who is perfectly satisfied with not getting married but completely insulted when Pandamiglio expresses the same “well, yeah, no I don’t want to get married either, do you?” sentiment. Stability seems to at first be the strength of their relationship, but it soon becomes the harbinger of something worse when being too comfortable turns out to be both their problems. One wonders whether or not Pandamiglio will be able to get his big break, fix his disorder, and get the girl all at once.
Pandamiglio’s judgmental father, played by James Rebhorn (Scent of a Woman, Independence Day), also tactfully blends “dad humor” with “dad disappointment” The dynamic is strongest when pitted against Birbiglia’s apathetic character regarding the P.O.S. Volvo his dad lent him to travel across the northeast for gigs—it’s safe to say the EZ Pass still works, but it just may or may not still be in Pandamiglio’s dad’s name.
There are several other small comedian cameos in the film, including the The Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac and Kristen Schaal, as well as comedienne Jesse Klein, who is in probably the funniest scene in the film involving a pizza blanket and sauce that is apparently just “way, way, way too hot.”
But Birbiglia’s autobiographically inspired, although apparently fictitious, account of his life does a good job of balancing the comedic undertones that unfortunately exist in the accurate portrayal of what it’s like to see a relationship slowly deconstruct itself until it implodes. It begs the question of how accurate the narrative is compared to Birbiglia’s life because it hits so frighteningly close to home for an utterly mind-boggling quarter-life crisis.
If it is true, I guess the frustration and confusion swirling around Pandamiglio turns out to be funny, because writer-director Birbiglia got the last laugh in the end. But if it isn’t true, well, then I guess Birbiglia can add successful screenwriter and director to his growing comedic resume.