Reviews

Shades of Annie Hall Color This Wry, Heartfelt Comedy: 'Sleepwalk With Me'

There's the self-deprecating main character who periodically breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience; the preoccupation with a romantic relationship that may or may not be ready to move to the next phase; the occupation of the protagonist; the overall wry, sardonic tone.


Sleepwalk With Me

Director: Mike Birbiglia
Cast: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane, James Rebhorn
Distributor: MPI
Studio: Bedrocket Entertainment
Release date: 2012-12-18

Stand-up comic Mike Birbiglia’s movie Sleepwalk With Me is the story if a standup comic named Matt Birbiglia, which should be enough to tip you off that this wry, heartfelt and very funny story is heavily autobiographical. Then again, I'm not even sure whether the autobiographical component matters all that much to anyone besides close personal friends of Mike Birbiglia, of whom I am not one. What matters, I guess, is whether the story is interesting, and engaging, and funny enough to make us laugh out loud a few times (it is about a stand-up comic after all). The answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes.

So, Birbiglia plays himself or someone mighty close to it, which is to say, a wannabe comedian who tends bar at a local comedy club. Matt has been dating the same woman for eight years, and although the tension is suggested rather than spelled out, the supernaturally patient Abby is ready for things to progress along to the next point. Matt, however, is unwilling or unable to make that next step, for reasons of, y'know, one thing or another… And anyway he's starting to have these weird sleepwalking incidents which are really starting to freak him out. And also, his comedy career? It’s just starting to really take off.

Mike Birbiglia's coming-of-age story (?) is very funny indeed, Except that it's not. As anyone who has ever suffered through lame standup knows, there are few things more painful than watching someone stand onstage telling unfunny jokes. And Matt's jokes are about as unfunny as they get. ("Hey, how about that Cookie Monster?... Does that guy have an eating disorder or what?")

There are shades of Annie Hall here, to be sure: the self-deprecating main character who periodically breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience; the preoccupation with a romantic relationship that may or may not be ready to move to the next phase; the occupation of the protagonist; the overall wry, sardonic tone. But Birbiglia isn't Woody Allen—for one thing, he’s a lot more fuzzy and likeable—and his movie comes off less as document of his creator's neuroses and more as the story of a guy who is, reluctantly, coming to terms with adult life.

After a chance encounter with another comic, Matt begins to incorporate real-life material into his routines—jokes about his own insecurities, and his girlfriend's shortcomings, and his wacky family's expectations. This new material is a great deal funnier than the old stuff, and against all odds, Matt finds himself becoming a successful comic. This causes him to spend much more time on the road, traveling from gig to gig, causing further stress to his already-rickety relationship. Oh and those sleepwalking incidents? They’re getting worse.

Sleepwalk With Me has already appeared in book form, and Birbiglia has also starred in a one-man off-Broadway show of his own, so this material has been around for some time. For those who, like me, are unfamiliar with these other incarnations, the story still feels fresh, and Birbiglia's laconic delivery is very funny, indeed.

The performances are excellent all around. Birbiglia is the glue that holds the story together, but it's more of an ensemble than appears at first, with Lauren Ambrose doing an especially fine job as Abby. It's a tricky balancing act to play the woman who is ambitious enough to want more for herself but not so selfish as ot undermine her lover's aspirations; Ambrose treads the line skillfully. Besides this there's the always-delightful Carol Kane (hey! Another Annie Hall link!) playing Birbiglia's mother. What more could you ask for?

The blu-ray edition of the film contains numerous extras, including a lengthy panel discussion/Q&A moderated by Joss Whedon in which he chats with Birbiglia and director Ira Glass (host of NPR's This American Life, for which Birbiglia is a frequent contributor). There are a number of behind-the-scenes vignettes and some outtake scenes, which are interesting enough but not crucial. The commentary track with Glass and Birbiglia is entertaining too, but at times feels a trifle redundant, given that the movie itself is, essentially, a commentary by Birbiglia on events from his own life. Still, their comments are funny enough, as you would expect from a pair like this, and their insights are interesting at times, especially as they relate to the shaping of the material as it was transformed from book to stage to film.

Sleepwalk With Me is well worth a look for viewers seeking an intelligent comedy that doesn't contain a lot of jokes about dicks, farts and food spewing from people's mouths. Relationships provide the comic material here, and family, and our own innate absurdities. Mike Birbiglia is a talented guy, and a funny one. It will be interesting to see what he does next.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image