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Sleepwalk with Me

Mike Birbiglia survives it all

Photo: Adam Beckman, License: N/A

Adam Beckman

Mike Birbiglia dreams big in Sleepwalk with Me

Sleepwalk with Me

Directed by Mike Birbiglia and Seth Barrish

Now playing at the Charles Theater

At first we thought it was going to be a bad attempt to present Annie Hall in a contemporary way. Everything was there: the odd couple (in this case, a slob who doesn’t want to marry the perfect girl); the talking to the camera, constantly reminding us we’re in a movie; the pain-in-the-ass parents; the cameo appearance of a nonactor at a key scene; the witty one-liners.

Fortunately, the movie, co-written by NPR host Ira Glass (see interview, page 24), gradually won us over and made a strong case. This is far from Annie Hall for the masses that don’t know who Marshall McLuhan is.

Based on his one-man stand-up routine and 2008 off-Broadway show, Sleepwalk with Me is the story of Matt (Mike Birbiglia), a struggling stand-up comedian who works as a bartender. Oh, he also sleepwalks and lives with girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose of Six Feet Under), the kind of smart, gorgeous girl losers sleep with only in the movies. Birbiglia, who also co-directed, mixes conventional narrative with documentary-style speeches to the camera and Buñuel-esque dream sequences. They’re all well executed, thanks to solid writing and Birbiglia’s impeccable comedic timing—he’s an absolutely natural funny man.

“I want to remind you that you’re on my side,” Birbiglia tells the public before a key scene. And yes, we’re always on his side, especially when sleepwalking gets really dangerous. He’s the best kind of funny man, because he’s capable of achieving dramatic impact when he apparently isn’t even trying.

As Matt’s parents, the controlling physician dad (James Rebhorn) and the embarrassing mom (Carol Kane) are superb. In lieu of McLuhan (who appeared as himself in a memorable scene in Annie Hall), Birbiglia cleverly used Dr. William C. Dement, the co-author of The Promise of Sleep, a book Matt reluctantly listens to while driving in hopes of helping cure his sleep disorder.

This is a nice, warm little comedy on relationships and fear of commitment, but it’s also about the art of stand-up comedy.

“I decided I’m not going to get married until I’m sure that nothing else good can happen in my life” is the one-liner that begins to change Matt’s fortunes in the stand-up circuit, and probably the biggest line in the whole movie because it sends the right message: Getting laughs is fine, but a true artist should not be concerned about pleasing anyone, especially those at home.

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