Comedian-turned-playwright-turned-filmmaker Mike Birbiglia adapts his one-man off-Broadway show and best-selling book “Sleepwalk With Me” into a dopey yet endearing and funny film.
It was a hit at several film festivals and won the audience award at Sundance. It opened Friday in Wichita at the Murdock Theatre, 536 N. Broadway, for a one-week run; showings continue through Wednesday.
“Sleepwalk” is laced with self-deprecating humor, much like Birbiglia himself, who co-wrote the film and co-directed it with renowned acting coach Seth Barrish.
Signs that this was once a play are initial — Birbiglia opens the film with a monologue aimed at the camera, directly addressing the audience. Other than that, it doesn’t feel like this was a forced attempt at making a stage show cinematic, which can sometimes be a problem.
The story is told in flashbacks, as Birbiglia narrates throughout. He plays Matt Pandamiglio, a would-be comedian who is relegated to bartending at a comedy club to earn a meager living.
He has constantly bickering parents (wonderfully played by James Rebhorn and Carol Kane). The grumpy dad keeps urging Matt to stop playing around and get a real job, already. The flighty mom lovingly dotes on Matt (and everyone else), which clearly annoys him.
And Matt’s girlfriend, Abby (ever-appealing Lauren Ambrose of “Six Feet Under”), is the perfect mate, loving and supportive of his career. Until she starts pressuring Matt about marriage and having babies, raising more red flags than a motor speedway.
It’s all too much stress for Matt, who refuses to address his commitment issues and internalizes everything. This gives way to episodes of bizarre sleepwalking that get increasingly more frequent. His father urges him to go to a doctor; Matt ignores him.
Then Matt’s comedy career suddenly takes a turn — he gets a gig at a local college that will pay him $150. Big money!
But the problem is that he’s not very funny, crashing and burning on stage — until he starts talking about his relationship problems in his act. Suddenly people are laughing. Matt is hooked. But he has to keep his new material a secret from Abby, and guilt sets in.
He soon starts getting other gigs — too many. He gets in over his head, especially when he tells Abby they should get married (when he was originally going to tell her they need to take a break).
With the impending nuptials and his new hectic schedule, the sleepwalking escalates to dangerous proportions, and Matt must rethink his life.
The story overall isn’t groundbreaking; it’s basically a study of relationships. But the film is breezy and engaging, thanks to the chemistry between Birbiglia and Ambrose. They are good people who just aren’t good for each other.
And as the foundation for the whole film, Birbiglia sets the tone just right. We feel his seething anxiety as he grapples to remain in control.
Overall, it’s a charming experience scattered with laugh-out-loud moments. “Sleepwalk With Me” is definitely not a snoozer.