One week and two new 2012 Sundance films under my belt. It’s almost like it’s January all over again. Except that the ground isn’t frozen and I’m not venturing up a mountain to try to squeeze in them in. While one of this week’s Sundance pick-ups is almost a complete failure, leave it to Mike Birbiglia to live up to my own expectations with his auto-biographical Sleepwalk with Me. Winning the Best of Next! Audience Award at Sundance, based on his stand-up and memoir of the same name, Birbiglia takes the reigns behind and in front of the camera, to deliver one of the best fourth wall-breaking films since High Fidelity. The scary part of this is that Birbiglia’s accounts’ are all true and it makes me feel better that the most I do in my sleep is some talking once in awhile.
Birbiglia plays himself in Sleepwalk with Me and before you write off the film as an 80-minute version of his stage act, there’s far more going on beneath the surface. Matt Pandamiglio (Birbiglia) back tracks through his life telling us his story of moving in with his girlfriend of eight years Abby (Lauren Ambrose), working at a bar that has comedy instead of doing comedy at a bar, and dealing with his overbearing mother Linda (Carol Kane) and domineering father Frank (James Rebhorn). The pressure starts cooking as Abby starts to make it clear that she wants to start a family and finally get married while Matt’s family is breathing down his neck thanks to his sister Janet (Cristin Milioti) tying her own knot. Soon enough, Matt starts sleepwalking off his frustrations while exhausting himself on the road after he makes a contact with his friend Ian’s (Alex Karpovsky) agent Colleen (Sondra James).
DustBuster Olympics, jackals, and pizza pillows make appearances as Birbiglia brings the funniest moments to life in a surprising directing debut. Working with co-director/co-writer Seth Barrish (also making his debut), along with This American Life’s Ira Glass, they have wrung every laugh possible out of Birbiglia’s original material. It’s fun to note that even Birbiglia’s brother Joe “Joey Bag O’ Donuts” himself is a co-writer, which helps Mike remain true to what really happened. The supporting cast is a who’s who of the stand-up world. But no one ever tries to call attention to themselves and there’s a sense of authenticity in how Birbiglia presents himself during certain situations. The biggest laugh out loud moment for me involves his car’s warning light. His response is exactly the kind of thing that I would say. Now, I’m in the future too, and I’d say that there could be possible Oscar buzz at least for the screenplay. It never plays for overdramatics and never feels desperate for a laugh only making Sleepwalk with Me a film I’d sleepwalk with any day.
Photo courtesy IFC Films