Mike Birbiglia, however, writes and directs Sleepwalk with Me as an intimate reflection into his own struggles during his climb toward stand-up comedy.
The movie is centered on Matt Pandamiglio (Mike’s renamed avatar) and his battle with his own psyche. He constantly questions himself as to whether or not he truly wants to marry his girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose) or if he’s stalling to find a way out.
It gets even worse for him when he’s suddenly troubled with REM sleep behavior disorder, which causes him to act out the dreams he has through sleepwalking. As he tours across America to get more recognition as a comic his mind continues to deteriorate, and his dreams become harsher as they begin to physically harm him.
Even though the movie is mostly funny, it’s a much darker story. For example, Birbiglia retells the genuine suffering he had in his sleepwalking, which proves to be much more harmful than humorous. The film feels like a warning tale for why making a living as a comedian is a risky venture, with most comedians falling through the cracks as they travel across several states for low-paying jobs at dive bars and comedy clubs.
It is brilliant how during his business ventures everyone knows that his jokes, based on his observations of stick bugs and Sesame Street, are very poor. His manager goes so far as to specifically gets him the worst long-distance jobs that are dedicated to making other comedians look significantly funnier with Mike’s terrible jokes.
The constant state of negativity in Birbiglia’s mind feels similar to Woody Allen’s older films as they both enjoy toying around with laughing at their own expense as their state of mind conflicts with the status quo in a grasp to find an identity.
In fact, the film’s cynicism is what motivates Birbiglia’s story as he denies that anything is wrong with his mental health. Abby keeps hinting at marriage, his parents keep telling him to get a reality check, his fellow comedians remind him of how awful their agents are, and his relatives keep reminding him how great marriage would be for him.
It helps that Birbiglia writes a quirky screenplay that he’s able to make even in his darkest place he sees a small light at the end of the tunnel as his career starts to pick up during his transition from observational comedy to personal comedy.
Sleepwalk with Me is an intriguing film that goes deep into the life of a struggling comedian without feeling the need to sugar coat his journey. With Birbigilia’s work, he effectively transforms his most troubling times into a comedic turn of events as his constant battle with his problems are as hilarious as they are depressing. Looking forward to seeing what’s in store for Birbiglia’s future.
Final Grade: A-