Things aren't going well for aspiring comedian Matt Pandamiglio (played by co-writer-director Mike Birbiglia) in the self-deprecating comedy that would make both Larry David and Louis C.K. proud, "Sleepwalk With Me."
Matt's just been strong-armed into moving in with his ultra-supportive, under-appreciated girlfriend (the gingerly cool Lauren Ambrose), who wants marriage and a baby carriage. He's also not exactly in high demand at the local comedy club — his best opportunities there are mopping the bathroom floors, serving drinks and filling in as a comic when the headliner is late or doesn't show up. He's the standup comic version of an aspiring boxer who serves as a punching bag for the guy training to win that champion belt.
There's also one major issue about Matt that becomes the giant pink elephant in the room — he suffers from a rare sleepwalking disorder. And he doesn't just say a few words before eventually going back to sleep; he climbs on top of tall pieces of furniture, tries to fight laundry baskets and jumps out the second floor windows of motels. This is an issue everyone takes seriously except for Matt, who's too busy driving from one gig to another in an attempt to better his stand-up routine.
Co-written and produced by Ira Glass of "This American Life," "Sleepwalk With Me" is based on Birbiglia's wonderful, horrible real life. The film got its roots in his comedy albums that focus on the bad luck he's had throughout the years. He does suffer from a bizarre sleepwalking disorder and really did jump out of a two-story hotel window once.
Lucky for us, Birbiglia turns his painful real-life experiences — like getting window glass removed from his leg — into a comedy routine. And it's a lot funnier than it sounds. Birbiglia adapted his album "Sleepwalk With Me" into a one-man stage show in New York presented by the legendary Nathan Lane and followed that with the book "Sleepwalk With Me & Other Painfully True Stories," which ended up on the New York Times bestseller list.
A number of Birbiglia's comedy albums, including "Sleepwalk" and "My Secret Public Journal Live," are used verbatim throughout the film. For the die-hard fans reading this, don't worry — there's a lot of new material, including charming side stories (we applaud Birbiglia and his team for casting Carole Kane and James Rebhorn as his constantly-arguing parents — it's actually kind of precious) and pleasing cameos. Alex Kapovsky pops up (and, to no one's surprise, he's a pretentious prick), and the highly-underused Kristen Schaal sneaks in as the president of a once-popular karaoke club. She comes dangerously close to stealing the movie with maybe two minutes of screen time.
Birbiglia's style of comedy isn't anything you haven't seen or heard before, but his methods of portrayal truly sell the film. He breaks the fourth wall a la "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and his character eventually finds a way to please a crowd by making fun of his relationship woes. His girlfriend wants to get married and have babies; he just wants to find a good place to get cereal. She fears she'll lose him to another woman; he fears bears. How non-seriously he takes his serious relationship of eight years is strangely very entertaining. He finally learns he has to laugh at himself and enjoy ripping apart embarrassing and private moments of his own life in front of an audience to get the kind of laughter a comic needs to keep their career healthy.
It was a smart move for Birbiglia to ride out the success of the several incarnations of "Sleepwalk With Me" by adapting it as a feature film. This is arguably the funniest film of 2012 to date; it should come with a label saying "Warning: You will injure yourself with laughter while watching this movie."
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