Today, I am going to be talking about a film that has resonated with me ever since my first viewing of it over a year ago – Sleepwalk with Me.
Odds are, you probably haven’t heard a lot about this film (aside from probably seeing it suggested to you on Netflix Instant), as it didn’t receive much mainstream recognition upon its initial release in August of 2012. And yet, it was an award winner at countless film festivals, and is regarded by many as one of the best cinematic portrayals of stand-up comedy ever made. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, considering the fact that comedian Mike Birbiglia – the film’s writer, director, and star – has been telling its story for over six years. Initially premiering as an insanely successful off-Broadway one-man show in 2008, and later becoming a New York Times Bestselling memoir – Birbiglia has crafted Sleepwalk with Me into a beautiful, semi-autobiographical story that has captured the hearts of many throughout the years, and rightfully so. It may be one of the few stories about stand-up comedy that finds the perfect balance between wit and sincerity, and is able to effortlessly translate to film.
Sleepwalk with Me tells the story of Matt Pandamiglio (Birbiglia), who, at the start of the film, finds himself struggling in many aspects of his life. He has aspirations of being a successful stand-up comedian, but is stuck mopping floors and serving drinks in a comedy club. He is feeling pressure by his family to marry his long-term girlfriend Abby (Six Feet Under’s Lauren Ambrose), but is unsure if he even believes in the idea of marriage itself. On top of all of that, he begins to develop a sleepwalking problem, which he refuses to believe is anything serious. The film brilliantly chronicles these three aspects of his life, showing many of the ups and downs Birbiglia himself faced on own his journey into comedy. And with an incredible supporting cast (including James Rebhorn, Carol Kane, and Cristin Millioti) and countless cameos from comedians like Marc Maron, Kristen Schaal, and David Wain, Birbiglia creates an absolutely delightful world to tell his truly unique story. This fictional world, when coupled with the film’s gorgeous cinematography and insanely quotable anecdotes (pizza-flavored ice cream, anyone?), helps Sleepwalk with Me become so much more than just an average film about comedy.
By far, the most noteworthy thing about Sleepwalk with Me has to be its refreshing amount of honesty, with regards to both relationships and comedy. Birbiglia is no stranger to unflinchingly honest stories about love (the best example of which has to be his most recent stand-up special, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, a one-man show so unique and wonderful that I could probably write a novel’s worth of analysis on it), a fact that is made abundantly clear throughout Sleepwalk with Me. The film brilliantly shows the struggle between having a career as a comedian and maintaining a healthy relationship with your significant other, a burden countless comedians face today. In addition, while most movies about stand-up comedy try to make the career seem as carefree and glitzy as possible, Sleepwalk with Me showcases the less-than-perfect steps on the road to being a comedian – many of which are all too common for those in the business today. From traveling hours away to play a low-paying gig for an unimpressed room of college kids, to overcoming the fear of telling personal jokes at the expense of your loved ones, Birbiglia shows what it’s like to be a professional comedian in the twenty-first century, and the impact it has on those around you.
And while good comedians might not always be the best storytellers, Sleepwalk with Me proves that Birbiglia is truly skilled in both fields. He brings an unbelievably sincere quality to every aspect of the film, and as director, co-writer, and star of the film, it is clear that he genuinely wants to tell his story right. At times, it is easy to forget that this film isn’t a documentary, as Birbiglia also serves as the film’s narrator – effortlessly telling his story to the audience as if he is speaking to an old friend. This added sense of authenticity and honesty has become a staple of the stand-up community today, as countless comedians have podcasts that are often as simple as a conversation between two friends.
And Birbiglia is no stranger to this style of personable, yet witty storytelling, as he has told a variety of stories – including an abridged version of the story of Sleepwalk with Me – on the popular NPR program ‘This American Life.’ This personable, yet witty storytelling has become a staple of Birbiglia’s career, as he has told this and several other stories on the popular NPR program ‘This American Life’. The film’s creative team is equally versed in the art of storytelling, as Ira Glass, host of ‘This American Life’ and longtime friend of Birbiglia, serves as one of the film’s co-writers and co-producers. This aspect of Sleepwalk with Me is one of the many things that make it truly unique, as it proves that the film can be just as unbelievably smart as it can be funny.
Anyone looking for a genuine portrayal of love, loss, or stand-up comedy (or any combination of the three) should definitely check out Sleepwalk With Me. It not only proves that films about relationships and/or standup comedy can be both smart and delightful, but it serves as an authentic cinematic touchstone for the state of comedy today. Sleepwalk With Me is currently available on a variety of streaming platforms, including iTunes, Amazon, and Netflix Instant.