I don’t know if I’m the best audience for Sleepwalk With Me, mainly because I don’t find comedian, Mike Birbiglia, funny. To be honest, and maybe this makes me sound ignorant, but I’d never even heard of Mike Birbiglia before this film, nor did I know anything about his Off-Broadway show of the same name, which apparently got raves across the board. That said, I really appreciate this movie.
Sleepwalk With Me is not “hilarious,” as the back of the box says, and Birbiglia’s character (Is it a character?) is sometimes infuriatingly clueless. But the idea of a man who has a sleepwalking disorder so bad that it actually causes him to jump out a window is beyond fascinating. I just wish there were real laughs, here, instead of chuckles to go along with it. That would have allowed me to give the film an extra star.
The film follows Birbiglia as himself during his rise as a professional comedian. Along the way, we see Birbiglia’s relationship with his girlfriend (Lauren Ambrose) deteriorate. We also get to see the highlight of the film, Birbigila’s REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, which gets worse and worse the more anxious he gets about his career and the future of his relationship. It all builds to the aforementioned climax of him hurling himself out of a window while he’s sleepwalking. (And don’t get upset about me spoiling anything. It says he does all that right on the front of the box).
Moreover, the shots of Birbiglia dreaming are fascinating in an almost The Nightmare on Elm Street level. Sometimes, it’s obvious that he’s having a dream, like when he’s running through a wheat field, which is a stark contrast from the scene before it. But other times, like when he’s eating a pizza around his neck while he’s with a girl, you almost wonder, “Is this a dream, or is this just a really weird date?” It keeps you guessing what weird position Birbiglia is going to wake up in when it’s all over. This kind of plot stuff I love.
But again, the laughs just aren’t there, at least for me. In the beginning of the film, his comedy is woefully unfunny, but that’s on purpose to show that he was really going nowhere in his career. But when his comedy starts taking off as he travels cross-country to different college campuses, I still don’t find him funny. He gets more confident in his delivery, but his punch lines are still terrible. Thankfully, we don’t see much of his stand-up and get more focus on the story. But then, the story isn’t that funny, either. I enjoyed watching Sleepwalk With Me, for the most part, but I didn’t really laugh. Maybe that’s just me. Even if you don’t find this movie funny, it’s at least enjoyable on a certain level. Give it a try if you’re interested in the topic of sleepwalking. And defenestration.
Since I’m not a fan of Birbiglia’s brand of humor, I didn’t find the commentary on the special features funny, either, but there are quite a few of them. The main draw is probably the Q&A with This American Life’s Ira Glass and the almighty Joss Whedon, who acts as a moderator. What bothers me about the Q&A, though, is that nobody really sounds comfortable--not until later on in the Q&A anyway, which is quite long. It’s actually a little uncomfortable to watch in the beginning when you can tell they’re all trying really hard to get laughs, just like the film itself. Maybe it was intentional?
The other draw is the commentary, which features both Birbiglia and Ira Glass. I never really listened to This American Life that much, only in bits and pieces, but from what I’ve heard, this commentary track doesn’t sound that much different from Glass’ popular radio show. The commentary is very matter-of-fact and conversational. I think I might like it more than the movie itself.
The rest of the special features are kind of blah. The outtakes aren’t interesting and go on for far too long. The “Making Of” featurette is everything you would expect from a featurette of that ilk and nothing more. And the behind-the-scenes shorts don’t offer anything tremendously interesting. They just focus on people talking about their roles in the film. That’s it. The trailer is the last special feature, and it’s one of those trailers that ruins all the good jokes in the film. Honestly, if you just want to see the comedic side of this film, watch the trailer and spare yourself the movie. But then, you’d be missing out on a pretty interesting tale. My advice: See the movie, and stay for the special features. They’re worth one watch.