I listen to a lot of comedy podcasts, which means that, for the past month, I’ve been bombarded with mentions of this movie. Mike Birbiglia has appeared on a few, Ira Glass has appeared on others, and when they’re not there promoting their movie themselves, they’re getting their comedy and pop culture friends to promote it for them. Under most circumstances, I’d find this annoying. But in the case of Sleepwalk With Me, I did not. It’s impossible to dislike these guys. They’re just so damn cool.
Comedian Mike Birbiglia enlisted This American Life’s Ira Glass, a.k.a. my new crush, to help him transform his most famous standup comedy bit/book/etc into a screenplay, and the result was a cute, charming little movie, independent at its core. If you’re a comedy nerd like me, you might have appreciated Marc Maron cameo-ish-ing as himself, Marc Mulharon, or others like Wyatt Cenac and Jessi Klein popping up briefly. If you’re an NPR nerd, you might have been delighted at seeing Ira Glass wield a large camera. If you’re an HBO nerd, you might have loved seeing the artist formerly known as Claire Fisher (Lauren Ambrose, idiots) use that classically-trained voice of hers to belt out a tune. But this movie wasn’t all winky and noddy and inside-jokey. It was actually about Birbiglia’s weird first years as a standup comic, when he developed a severe sleepwalking disorder and was in a serious, moving-towards-marriage type of relationship despite being an outwardly easygoing guy. This movie dealt with these stressful issues in the only way that made logical sense — truthfully. That is, the story that was told wasn’t cliche, because it was Birbiglia’s to tell. I’d heard Birbiglia tell the sleepwalking story countless times, and yet seeing it climax on screen was still terrifying — he literally jumped out a window in his sleep and could have died — and humbling. Even sadder still was [SPOILER ALERT] the final shot, which showed him inside a protective sleeping bag and wearing mittens, the new solution to his sleepwalking problem. Most of the audience laughed at this image; I did not. It was heartbreaking. Maybe Birbiglia didn’t mean for it to be as tragic as it was, but it was an honest, resolved way to end the film, and to show at the same time that not everyone solves all their problems. Speaking of which: I’d not heard him tell the story of his [SPOILER ALERT, AGAIN] eight-year relationship and subsequent breakup with Abby (Ambrose), but I found this part of the movie very honest, too. Of course, he peppered their relationship with witty bits and used clever editing to make their fights seem more amusing, but the facts around their breakup were made abundantly clear. “It just wasn’t working out” just won’t cut it for me anymore when I watch movies, because Sleepwalk With Me gave that phrase new meaning.
Mike Birbiglia isn’t a movie star, but he’s incredibly likable, and incredibly talented at timing his tales. I think I loved his car soliloquies the most, indie-movie as they were, because they showed off his true comedian self, a dude who makes light of the darkest points in his life.