Mike Birbiglia, er, “Matt Pandamiglio,” is a mostly unsuccessful comedian working as a bartender at the club where he occasionally goes on stage. He is also sort of unsuccessful in his personal life — he is living with Abby (Lauren Ambrose), a woman he deeply cares for but doesn’t love enough to marry, but their uncertain status is starting to wear on her. And, perhaps, on him, as Matt finds himself sleepwalking, or really, sleep-injuring himself by jumping off things. He decides to tell her that they need to take a break, though he’d like it to be the kind of break where she doesn’t sleep with anyone else. When he isn’t quite able to get that idea out, he instead finds a way to never be around. After meeting an agent, he gets himself booked in a variety of tiny comedy shows — no show too small, no destination too far away. On the road, he figures out that while his standard set — an embarrassing mash of bits about Cookie Monster and the A-Team — is awful, his stories about his relationship make for more winning material. After the first line — he says he doesn’t want to get married until he’s sure nothing good is ever going to happen to him again — gets one of his first non-pity laughs, he decides to dig in to the stuff about not wanting to get married and other relationship things that he probably never wants Abby to hear him say. But, as comedian “Marc Mulheren” (yes, that’d be Marc Maron) tells him, they’re not at home, they’re on the road.
While I’m pretty sure the infamous La Quinta Inn incident does not, in this movie, happen in “Walla Walla, Washington” as it did in real life (he repeates the location in his stage telling of the story like a refrain to a song), it appears here — with a dream that gets “Matt” anxious and walking around his hotel room in his sleep — pretty much the way I’ve heard him describe it on This American Life. If you’ve listened to the show for any length of time, you’ve probably heard Birbiglia and his distinct delivery (hipster drawl? laid-back anxiety?) in stories about sleepwalking and relationships. And, yes, a lot of that is repeated here. But if you’re a fan of his stories, I think it works, even if there aren’t a lot of surprises. There are some nice details to keep you occupied even if you’ve heard the story about the jackal. We get a nice sketch of Matt’s relationship with his parents (played by Carol Kane and James Rebhorn). We get a sense of the complicated nature of the relationship between Matt and Abby — it is believable that they might like each other but not love each other. And we get a great look at the backstage unglamorous life of a working-stiff comedian. Scenes where Matt has to, for example, emcee a lip-sync contest with two entrants (and frankly, he got lucky with that assignment) or where he rejoices in the freedom of a crappy hotel room are delightful and make the movie worth it even if you are familiar with the story and how it’s told. B+
Not rated. Directed by Mike Birbiglia and co-directed by Seth Barrish with a screenplay by Birbiglia, Barrish, Ira Glass and Joe Birbiglia, Sleepwalk with Me is an hour and 30 minutes long and is distributed by IFC Films (and is available via video on demand in the “same day as theaters” section).