‘Sleepwalk With Me’ Movie Review – A Hybrid Comedy
Believe it or not, there was a time in my life I wanted to be a standup comedian. It wasn’t a very serious expectation but more of a fleeting wish. Then, I started to pay attention to stand-up comics and realized there was absolutely no way I’d have the guts to get on stage. I compare it to apprehension that comes with skydiving or walking on hot coals. Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me highlights the struggles that come with the business while integrating autobiography and plenty of humor in one of the funniest films of the year. And unlike some “comedies,” the real-life factor makes it all the more lovable.
Following Birbiglia around, the story focuses on his up-and-coming career, but it tells the story in a far less flattering way. Today, he still doesn’t have the stardom he probably deserves, but at least he’s got enough to make a movie about himself. Sleepwalk With Me follows his struggles, though – at first mostly dealing with career. Later, this manifests into some much deeper stuff, which is ultimately defined by his rare sleeping disorder.
For many people, this could unfortunately be the first time you’ve heard Birbiglia’s name. He does have a formidable following, as well as plenty of time on-air for This American Life, but that doesn’t mean he’s a booming comedy name. For me, I was lucky enough to hear about him from a friend years ago, which led to him becoming one of my favorite working comedians.
Birbiglia is funny because he is one of the greatest storytellers. He can be telling a story as simple as his Bread & Breakfast getaway to Michigan or something as complex as performing at the Major League Baseball’s MVP Awards and the stories will be just as funny. As long-form goes, he’s definitely one of the bests.
Sleepwalk With Me is essentially a narrative version of his real-life stories. Some of the things are different, but the core of the story is intact. While he usually performs this as a comedy act, here it is set up as a movie.
I wish I could speak for the other mediums – this has been presented as a one-man off-Broadway show and as a book – but I do think a movie has the best potential. There are some stylistic choices that make the movie even better, including the integration of his dreams into reality. It’s done in a very straightforward way just like Birbiglia’s overarching narration.
There are tons of already-used jokes for Birbiglia followers sprinkled with some funny new bits. Even though I knew plenty of the punchlines as he was telling them, I laughed just as hard as I normally do.
The difference between the stand-up and the movie, though, is what catapults Sleepwalk With Me into a must-see event. This is more than just funny jokes because Birbiglia is highlighting his life struggles. It starts off as merely humor, but the story morphs into something a lot more serious, dealing with self-esteem, accomplishments, and ultimately, his relationship woes and denial.
I’m not the only one praising it either. Before I saw it at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival, it took home the Best of NEXT Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival.
Even putting my love for Mike Birbiglia aside, I can praise Sleepwalk With Me for being a hybrid comedy-autobiography. As far as genre goes, this film is unlike any other comedy film I’ve seen. If you didn’t know much about Birbiglia beforehand, this movie is a fantastic way of introducing you to one of the greatest storytellers while being surprisingly dramatic, too. If you have heard of Birbiglia, this shouldn’t take much convincing.
It’s a great combination for a great story.
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