In an earlier blog, I wrote about my experience at an improv comedy club and how I admire the men and women willing to make a fool of themselves for the sake of others’ enjoyment. With a new appreciation for stand-up comedians, I was excited to see Sleepwalk with Me, a movie about an aspiring stand-up comedian who starts sleepwalking when his longtime relationship begins to putter out.
Sleepwalk with Me stars Mike Birbiglia as Matt Pandamiglio, an awkward and sluggish bartender. His girlfriend Abby, played by “Six Feet Under’s” Lauren Ambrose, is a bright-eyed New York City vocal coach. Their 8-year relationship takes a leap forward when Mat and Abby decide to move in together, something Matt is noticeably unenthusiastic about. On the night of his sister’s engagement, Matt has his first sleepwalking incident. His sleepwalking worsens once he feels pressured by both Abby and his parents to get married. Rather than see a doctor about his sleepwalking, Matt uses his doubts about marriage to fuel his stand-up acts across the Northeast, all the while dealing with his insecurities about life and love as well as his dangerous sleepwalking.
This film is a good, for the most part. It starts out strong, detailing how Abby and Matt first met. The scene where Matt does stand-up for the first time in college is quite funny, especially when talking about how the cookie monster must suffer from a severe case of bulimia.
Sleepwalk with Me’s beginning isn’t the only likeable aspect of the film. Matt’s narration, which happens throughout the film, offers insight as to why Matt does the things he does, as well as providing some much-needed comic relief during the film’s more emotional moments.
However, there are some aspects of the film that simply aren’t believable. For instance, Matt’s overnight ‘success’ is implausible. His so-so jokes from college carry over to adulthood, but they haven’t earned him notoriety or confidence as a performer. Everything changes, however, when he has a conversation with a fellow comedian about honesty and its role in great comedy. Suddenly the light turns on and Matt is creating new material. Why did it take Matt 5+ years to realize that’s what his act needed, especially when he interacts with comedians on a regular basis as a bartender? I was also bothered by the fact that Matt carries on about his dream of becoming a well-known comic, but he doesn’t attempt to improve his comedic skills by coming up with new material between college and now.
I also had an issue with how Sleepwalk with Me portrays Lauren Ambrose’s Abby. In the past week, I’ve seen two films, both of which are semi-autobiographical, including this film. There’s something about watching an autobiographical film that always strikes me as nausea-inducing. I think it’s because most directors/writers are too preoccupied with developing the character that’s loosely based on them. As a result, they fail to give other characters much depth, and this is the case with Abby.
So much attention is paid to Matt that we see little introspection on Abby’s part. She’s mostly just the punch line, which doesn’t bode well for their relationship in the end.
Sleepwalk with Me is entertaining, but it doesn’t explore its characters’ motivations enough to become anything more. Comedy is therapeutic for Matt, but what about the others?