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SIFF: Sleepwalk With Me - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
SIFF: Sleepwalk With Me
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

If truth is stranger than fiction, then comedian Mike Birbiglia has a lot going for him. He stars in, co-directed and co-wrote Sleepwalk With Me, based on his one-man show of the same name, which in turn was based on actual events in his life. The title is meant to be taken literally: this is a guy with a serious sleepwalking problem.

It's unclear how much creative license is taken in the background details: the nature of his relationship with his longtime girlfriend (here played by the lovely Lauren Ambrose); his slightly overbearing parents (James Rebhorn and Carol Kane); the severity of his sleepwalking episodes. If nothing else, we know that Birbiglia really did have a dream that prompted him, while sleeping, to jump through the glass of a second story hotel window. Interesting side note, not noted in the movie: that incident actually happened in Walla Walla, Washington.

Otherwise, it doesn't matter much. This character is a version of Birbiglia, but still fictionalized: his name in the movie is Matt Pandamiglio. With Matt, the trouble starts when Abby, his girlfriend, indicates that after eight years, she actually might not mind being married. Soon afterward, she's woken up in the middle of the night by Matt believing a hamper is actually a jackal.

Matt aspires to be a comedian, but, at the beginning of the film, he's working as a bartender for a comedy club. He sometimes fills in time with his ancient jokes that get very little response. It's not until the sleepwalking starts, and Matt finally thinks to talk about the issue in his act, that his career starts taking off.

Adapting a stage piece into a movie is always a tricky business, regardless of the context or type of story. Sleepwalk With Me is clearly no exception. It's easy to see how this might have worked far better as a one-man show. On stage, it would have been Mike, all the time, telling the story, as himself. In the movie, it's Matt, and while he does narrate, we still have to be outsiders observing both him and the people around him. This changes it from a guy telling great stories to a guy acting in what honestly could be a better movie. Birbiglia actually does a decent job at acting but I can't say he's great.

Lauren Ambrose is great, but her part is not. Matt himself is really the only fundamentally interesting character; all the others are just window dressing. At least Matt fairly effectively sustains the story, and as his act improves, the movie showcases some pretty good comedy. I got several good laughs out of it. It made me wish I could have seen one of his comedy sets where he talked about these sleepwalking experiences.

That part of it was kind of scary stuff, actually. You never know when he might hurt himself, or how badly. The scene where he jumps out the window was probably not funny at all in real life, but in the movie he manages to make it funny. Still, there's a slight tonal consistency problem, as the movie veers between tension and comedy, only occasionally combining the two with success.

It's certainly different, though. You're not going to find another movie like this, and when a movie offers something new that's always a good thing.

Mike Birbiglia is a sleepwalking comedian in SLEEPWALK WITH ME.

Overall: B
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