Monday, December 24, 2012

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Sleepwalk With Me

Mike Birbiglia signals a promising new talent in Hollywood with his new film "Sleepwalk With Me", which he co-wrote, co-directed and also played the leading role. This film tells the story of Matt Pandamiglio (played by Birbiglia), a struggling comedian who is also dealing with a failing relationship and a sleepwalking disorder. Although the plot touches on all these issues, it doesn't really delve too deeply into any of them, as the script wanders in all sorts of directions. The film is often presented in a unique conversational style, with Birbiglia breaking the 4th wall to explain his story. It's a method that mostly works, as the script isn't really sharp enough to pique your interest on its own. Despite being a comedian, his character isn't very charismatic and the dialogue isn't witty. However, there's some twisted amusement to be had from watching an uncharismatic comedian telling lame jokes. It's an interesting acting choice, as he gives a purposely self-deprecating performance that probably won't garner much praise. His character lacks the overt quirkiness or "joie de vivre" that is prevalent in similar indie comedies. In contrast, his supporting cast is quite engaging. Namely, Lauren Ambrose is just lovely as his girlfriend while Carol Kane and James Rebhorn are quite funny with their frank words of wisdom.

By now you're thinking this is one of those dry mumblecore movies. To me, it definitely starts out that way but eventually develops into something more meaningful. The film manages to portray a great sense of honesty and clarity about life. The main character undergoes a period of self-adjustment as he is forced to re-assess his life's ambitions when faced with the harsh reality of our world. Like many of us, he dreamed of success and happiness, but things didn't turn out exactly as he planned. His failures have turned him into somewhat of a loser, as he struggles to find his purpose. Rather than dwell on his pitiful life though, the film takes a nice turn as he takes some control of his destiny. He takes low-paying gigs, examines his relationship and attempts to fix his sleeping disorder. Consequently, he gradually improves his jokes, he sorts out his relationship and he is able to control his sleepwalking. To me, this really added some substance to the story and made him very endearing and relatable. I'm sure we can all see pieces of ourselves in this character.
It's not a perfect film by any means, but it has good intentions. Much like one of Pandamiglio's amateur comedy shows, some of it works and some it doesn't. Thankfully, the filmmakers had the good sense to keep the running time at a tight 80 minutes, so it never outstayed its welcome.

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