Monday, January 07, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Sleepwalk With Me (2012) ***½

PG-13, 90 min.
Directors: Mike Birbigia, Seth Barrish (co-director)
Writers: Mike Birbiglia, Joe Birbiglia, Ira Glass, Seth Barrish
Starring: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, James Rebhorn, Carol Kane, Marc Maron, Cristin Milioti

Not only is “Sleepwalk With Me” one of the best movies ever made about stand up comedy, it is also an engaging and atypically good examination of a romantic relationship. Made entirely independently by stand up comic Mike Birbiglia, this movie is not just some silly comedy, but a serious self analysis by the man, who approaches the material on what seems to be entirely autobiographical terms. The names have been changed, but not by much. Birbiglia plays a stand up comedian named Matt Pandamiglio. Comedian and podcaster Marc Maron plays a headlining veteran comedian named Marc Mulheren. I hope for the sake of Birbiglia’s ex-girlfriend depicted in the film that her name is a far cry from Abby.

Birbiglia enlists a good deal of his stand up comedian friends and colleagues to create and incredibly authentic portrayal of life as a stand up. He captures the depressing culture of rejection and humiliation that comes at the beginning of a stand up’s career. He also captures that spark when things finally begin to click. There’s a scene when he goes on his first road trip for work when he stays in a hotel. He jumps around the place like a little kid. He’s finally achieved a dream.

Stand up comedy is really only a backdrop for the story Birbiglia really set out to tell, however. What he’s really interested in exploring are the reasons why people stay in long romantic relationships, and how his personal sleeping disorder affected and brought enlightenment on his first long term relationship. In this area, the film is a serious drama, with some fairly funny dream sequences and others that exemplify how frightening some sleep disorders can be.

Birbiglia has really opened his heart up with this film. It may seem a surprise that such a heartfelt movie could come from a stand up comedian, but it also makes a good deal of sense. It’s no secret that most comedians are a little messed up on the emotional front. Their humor often comes as a defense mechanism against severe insecurity. Also, the best comics pull their humor from very personal experiences. Here is a movie that honestly shows the psyche of a stand up comic and depicts the not so easy lives they’ve chosen to lead in order to pursue the thing they are good at—making the rest of us laugh.

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