It’s difficult not to think of FX’s “Louie” while watching Sleepwalk with Me. They don’t have much in common other than the fact that the main stars are real life comedians playing fictional versions of themselves, but it’s the novelty of seeing a stand-up comedian, who is most comfortable on a stage, act out a story and try to find meaning. Although certainly flawed, “Louie” does a pretty good job of that and manages to surprise with its smarts at every turn. Sleepwalk with Me isn’t quite up to its level. It’s a good movie, but at a mere 80 minutes (and that includes credits), it’s a little light on story and much of its desired meaning is lost.
The film stars Mike Birbiglia as Matt Pandamiglio, an aspiring stand-up comic who spends more time bartending than he does telling jokes. He’s in a relationship with Abby (Lauren Ambrose), whom he loves dearly, but nevertheless, he’s not ready to get married. The problem is she is. His sister’s impending marriage is only causing more eyes to turn his way with the hopes of him finally making the decision to settle down. These pressures cause his anxiety to spike and before he knows it, he’s sleepwalking to an extreme level, to the point where he could potentially harm himself or others.
Frankly, his whole sleepwalking predicament is beside the point. Aside from the obvious parallel between it and his drab existence, where the clichéd message of “look how some of us are sleepwalking through life” rears its ugly head, there isn’t much to it. It provides the occasional fit of laughter, like in an early scene where he starts kicking a laundry basket and yelling that there’s a jackal in his room, but for a device to be so central to the story, it’s surprisingly thin. With little writing experience other than his own stand-up routines, Birbiglia falls to the first-time-indie-writer problem. He thinks his movie is far more profound than it really is.
Even with this flaw, Birbiglia nevertheless manages to create likable characters that we care about, even if we don’t care about what they’re doing. Pandamiglio is your typical everyman. He’s relatable, but only because he’s common. He isn’t buff, successful or even particularly good looking, but neither is he scrawny, unsuccessful or ugly. He’s merely average, but he carries with him a passion most will be able to connect to and appreciate. Even his girlfriend, who is frustrated by his lack of commitment and becoming increasingly unhappy with their relationship, supports him in his comic endeavors, which are far more likely to fail than succeed. These are really interesting characters with complex personalities that are unfortunately coasting through a weak and inconsequential story.
Still, the movie does provide the occasional insight or emotional moment. One sequence in particular is simultaneously sweet and crushing as it flashes back to when Matt and Abby fell in love in the midst of a current relationship that is falling apart, but other transitions aren’t quite as seamless. Matt’s own metamorphosis from fledgling comedian to popular funnyman is rushed and unconvincing, as is his sudden attractiveness to the opposite sex, but I suppose at only 80 minutes, there isn’t much time for lollygagging. This short runtime also fails to allow enough time for Matt and Abby to be together (as Matt is out on the road for the majority of the movie), so what eventually happens to their relationship is both expected and narratively extraneous.
With so many structural problems and an ego that thinks it says more than it really does, Sleepwalk with Me is nothing more than a serviceable time waster. It succeeds (if only slightly) on a few decent laughs and the charm of its characters, but because it rarely gives them anything interesting to do, the film feels dull and lifeless. The final product from a stand-up comedian turned first time screenwriter and director could have been a lot worse, but Birbiglia will need to expand on his ideas next time if he hopes to succeed as something other than forgettable.
Sleepwalk with Me receives 3/5