“Sleepwalk With Me” is an interesting, sometimes successful sometimes not, movie experiment. The director, co writer and star is stand up comedian Mike Birbiglia and the whole movie is essentially a stand up routine dramatized. He plays Matt (himself), a bumbling, nervous, wimpy fellow. Matt is also a stand up comedian, or at least is trying to be one; he works as a bartender at a New York club where he will occasionally do his act. However, he’s not very good. Well no, he absolutely stinks. He’s been in an eight-year relationship with a woman named Abby (Lauren Ambrose), who’s pressuring him to propose and have a kid, which he doesn’t know if he wants. Then he’s got his two parents played by James Rebhorn and Marylouise Burke who keep bothering him, as most comedy movie parents tend to do. And to top it all off he suffers from a serious sleepwalking disorder (most likely caused by all of this stress in his life). He has dreams and acts them out. Poor guy.
Now, all of the supporting characters in “Sleepwalk” are thinly sketched and don’t grow very much throughout. Abby is sweet and a little quirky and is also obsessive, while Matt’s parents are typically kooky, and his recently married sister Linda (Carol Kane) is typically supportive. Though I suppose that’s what Birbiglia is going for. It’s his story, about his career and romance troubles, and we see everything from his point of view. He narrates and every once and a while we cut away from the action to Birbiglia driving around in his car addressing us through the camera. The narration is filled with little jokes, so it’s easy to imagine it performed as a standup act. “Sleepwalk With Me” originally began as a one man, off Broadway show and it’s easy to see it in that context as well.
But in terms of a movie, I couldn’t find myself caring about much of what happened in it. I didn’t care about Abby, or Matt’s kooky parents and supportive sister, simply because they all feel like nothing but projections, in fact the “dramatizations” also felt like projections. And as far as the sleep disorder stuff is concerned, it mostly just provided comedy. Furthermore the movie is a little unfocused; half way through it goes off on a side tangent where Matt does a long string of stand up gigs across the country (where he progressively gets better at comedy and gets in worse shape, sleeping wise). And then it goes back to his relationship with Abby, which doesn’t have enough weight.
Although, the film can be fairly amusing at times, particularly the scenes where we get to see his standup act; first when he’s terrible, then when he’s good and he mocks his bad relationship situation. And the sleep walking sequences (first we see the dream, then we see what Matt’s actually doing in reality) always gave me a laugh. There’s one that ends where he literally jumps out of a hotel room window.
While I appreciate Birbiglia’s attempt to do something different, in the end I think I would rather have seen Birbiglia’s straight stand up act, on a stage without these dramatic reenactments, because the comedy is all I really got out of the overall picture. I couldn’t get attached to any of the serious things Birbiglia was trying to convey.