Comedian Mike Birbiglia rapidly expanded his audience when his stand-up performances became a popular recurring feature on “This American Life.” His conversational delivery worked within the show's storytelling style, and one of his routines, an alternately harrowing and hilarious story about his rare and dangerous sleepwalking problem, eventually led to an Off-Broadway one-man show, “Sleepwalk With Me.” The story was excerpted on “TAL,” which led Birbiglia and host Ira Glass to adapt it for the screen.
In its structure and pacing, “Sleepwalk With Me” is patterned closely after “Annie Hall” — a good stylistic match for Birbiglia's story about stand-up comedy, REM sleep disorder and the self-sabotage of a perfectly good relationship. His writing, acting and directorial debut stars Birbiglia as Matt Pandamiglio, who falls hard for Abby (Lauren Ambrose) in college when he is still trying to find his footing as an observational comic. Eight years later, Matt still cannot commit to marriage with Abby and the stresses of his life bring out the worst in his sleep disorder, culminating in disaster during an out-of-state performance.
Birbiglia ably blends fantasy elements with the humor and pathos, choosing to go inside Matt's head for sequences when his subconscious turns against him. Ambrose plays Abby as a sweetly sympathetic character — so sympathetic that, during one of the many sequences in which Birbiglia breaks the “fourth wall,” he reminds the audience that “you are on my side.” The Blu-ray is absolute gold for “TAL” fans, featuring a Q&A session with Birbiglia, Glass and Joss Whedon at the Writers Guild Foundation and a commentary by Glass and Birbiglia. “Sleepwalk With Me” could use a more dramatic narrative arc and it suffers from an anticlimactic end, but Birbiglia shows considerable promise as a cinematic storyteller.
— George Lang