Mike Birbiglia since I first saw his stand up on Comedy Central, so when I heard he wrote, directed and starred in a semi-autobiographical tale of his life, I was interested in checking it out.
Mike plays Matt Pandamiglio - which I'm sure is a clear play on his name and how it was likely butchered by many MCs over the years - a struggling comic that's having trouble getting gigs and bartends at a comedy club. His material is very rough and can only get an opportunity when someone cancels or doesn't show up to the club. He has a supportive girlfriend (Lauren Ambrose) that he's been with for eight years and can't seem to take the next step with, but she's still being patient.
Matt also has a severe sleepwalking disorder. This has some hilarious, and even dangerous outcomes. He knows it's a problem and there's likely something deeper behind it. Matt's encouraged to get help, but continues to cancel appointments, not even able to make a commitment to that.
It's only when he begins to talk about his life, insecurities and relationship on stage that he starts getting laughs and things look up for him. He knows that talking about his relationship might have consequences with his girlfriend, but that's not a huge concern for him. Matt starts hitting the road, still getting paid dirt, but excited that he's finally getting some work.
I liked this in the same way I like Louis C.K.'s Louie. Don't get me wrong, it's not nearly as raw and uncomfortable as Louie. It is an honest and real look at his life, and that vulnerability leads to genuine laughs, both on stage for him and for us watching the movie. I've always found it fascinating to watch comedians develop their act and go from routinely bombing or only getting a few chuckles, to headlining or being on TV. I've had the opportunity to see this a few times first hand and it really is an interesting experience.
I think it took a lot of guts for Mike to put himself out like this. He knows he's not necessarily playing the most sympathetic or likable guy, and even jokingly reminds you during his narration that you're supposed to be on his side. At times he comes off looking bad, but you never genuinely dislike him. He's a guy that's still trying to figure out who he is and knows he has problems, but also has doubts and not quite sure what to do next. Sound familiar?
There's also a great supporting cast. Lauren Ambrose is great as Matt's girlfriend. She's so supportive of him, and you sympathize more with her through most of the film. James Rebhorn and Carol Kane are also great as Matt's parents, and his interaction with his family is great. You even see a few comics pop up here and there like David Wain, Kristen Schall, Wyatt Cenac, and Marc Maron has a notable scene.
Mike co-directed this with Seth Barrish, who also co-wrote along with Ira Glass and Joe Birbiglia and all I can say is that it's a great team effort. There'a a lot of talent here and it shows in the finished product. I can't wait to see what's next for Mike Birbiglia.
Sleepwalk With Me is a fascinating look at a burgeoning comedian's life. It's funny, honest and neurotic. Mike Birbiglia carries the film and shows that he's a star on the rise. If you're already familiar with him, then I think you'll really enjoy this, and if you aren't, you might find yourself becoming a fan. The movie is in limited release, so most of you won't have a chance to see this until it hits the home markets, but I highly recommend checking it out.
4 (out of 5) Death Stars