Reviwer's Rating: ★★★
When Ira Glass, host of National Public Radio’s This American Life, performed his well-received one-man show at the LSU Union Theater in August, he promised the audience that Sleepwalk With Me, a movie he co-wrote with comedian Mike Birbiglia, would play in Baton Rouge.
Beginning Friday, Oct. 12, Sleepwalk With Me starts a limited run at the Manship Theatre. It’s part of the theater’s independent film series.
Birbiglia has three Comedy Central specials to his credit and more than 40 talk-show appearances with the likes of David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon. But he wanted more. The comedian’s artistic ambitions led to his one-man, off-Broadway show, Sleepwalk With Me.
The story-oriented Glass found out about Birbiglia, liked his sleepwalking stories and invited him be a guest on This American Life. The comedian quickly became a regular and, in 2009, he invited Glass to help him make Sleepwalk With Me into a movie.
On screen as the unsuccessful, indecisive Matt, Birbiglia portrays a directionless, vague child-man. Matt is kind of a whiner, too, especially in contrast to his barking, domineering father (James Rebhorn).
Matt and his sure-of-herself girlfriend, Abby, have been together eight years. She tells him that she loves him. He replies that he loves her, too, but weakly, without conviction.
Things get touchy when Abby (Lauren Ambrose) realizes that the word “marriage” puts Matt on the defensive. Thus the central, epic conflict in Sleepwalk With Me is set in motion.
At first, Matt, a failing comedian who works as bartender, is borderline useless. But professional storytellers Birbiglia and Glass are just warming up. They send poor Matt on a journey.
The journey is complicated by Matt’s sleepwalking. He suffers from a severe, potentially self-destructive form of sleepwalking. His nocturnal misadventures add some action to the movie’s mix of comedy and drama.
Sleepwalk With Me lifts off slowly. There’s lots of talk. Given Matt’s character, though, a hesitant, verbose launch seems inevitable. Birbiglia and Glass are executing their exposition, preparing the way for what will follow. Sleepwalk With Me simultaneously grows funnier and more serious.
There’s so much of Birbiglia in Matt and his film debut that he may not have another film in him.
Even if he doesn’t have more stories worth telling on film, he’s done one movie that sneaks up on its audience and earns its attention.