Sleepwalk with Me
The movie Sleepwalk With Me is made pretty strictly for devoted fans of Mike Birbiglia's stories on NPR's This American Life. The Brooklyn comic Birbiglia co-wrote, co-directed (with Seth Barrish) and stars in an adaptation of his one-man show, based on short stories he wrote. Birbiglia's "Matt," a standup comedian, has three worries. His career as a comedian is stalled. He has a girlfriend, Abby (Lauren Ambrose), who wants to get married and have a baby. He suffers from an untreated sleep disorder, which causes him to wake up with nightmares.
Matt bartends at a comedy club, where he's a comedian to be used for emergencies only. He seems to get more rest onstage than he does in bed at night. Matt's problems coalesce when he gets an aged and disinterested agent named Colleen (Sondra James). Colleen doesn't think much of Matt, but she books him at minor gigs far apart all over New England. The woodsy road-trip scenes open up the picture, as do the streetscapes of well-off, leafy Brooklyn. Still, the sleepy-eyed, failure-prone comedian's passiveness grows wearisome.
Birbiglia is not a deft physical comedian. Even if these dreams are autobiographical, they don't really illustrate anything. They're staged with the flat quality of pointless whimsy. There is, however, something about this puttylike underachiever that brings out the maternal side of women, because Birbiglia has a noteworthy supporting cast of actresses. The quirky, lively Ambrose comes on with a lot of dazzle. Her Abby weaves her fine red hair into Slavic braids, and she rocks out at a party to a uke version of the 1927 tune "Side by Side." The question of whether or not to settle down should have some pungency, especially when it's clear how badly Abby wants to nest. She's a determinedly nice, sweet character, though. Her needs don't have any edge, or any pain underneath. Mike's mother is played by the tiny, bracingly odd Carole Kane, a eccentric stalwart of '70s cinema. Kane is pale and lunar, with a slurry voice like an inebriated Betty Boop.
Even though Birbiglia is acting out his own personal life, Sleepwalk With Me is less funny than puny. There are such things as sweet little movies (Robot and Frank, for example), but this is relentlessly miniature: the tiniest film of the year.
Sleepwalk With Me
NR; 90 min.