You can look at Matt Pandamiglio (Mike Birbiglia) life in two ways. He’s a fledgling comedian who’s doing well; he’s got a great girlfriend with whom he’s in love, and his sleeping disorder is nothing to worry about. Or, he’s a terrible comedian who struggles to find gigs, he can’t come up with more than 15 minutes of material, his relationship is going stale and he has a rare and extremely dangerous sleeping disorder induced by recent stress and bad sleeping habits. In this wickedly hilarious yet terribly dismal semi-autobiographical film, Matt is afraid to acknowledge the harsh truths of his life.
As Sleepwalk with Me progresses, Matt’s problems snowball: his girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose) hints at marriage, his parents (James Rebhorn and Carol Kane) are breathing down his neck, and his dead-end comic career forces him into long drives and low pay. And to make matters worse, his sleepwalking episodes are becoming more severe.
Despite Matt’s bleak existence, Sleepwalk with Me had me howling with laughter at every turn. Matt’s quirky stand-up and narration are at first unfunny to the point of hilarity, with a focus on softball topics like Cookie Monster. As the movie progresses, Matt’s focus shifts to the dreary reality his life has become, and his comedy takes on a self-deprecating voice that successfully connects with the audience. We gain an inside perspective on his dreams, experiencing them with Matt, until we are unceremoniously jerked into the reality of his sleepwalking. These transitions are wildly successful at garnering laughs, even causing audience-wide anticipation at the first hint of a dream sequence. Screenwriters Matt and Joe Birbiglia, Ira Glass and Seth Barrish work in the perfect amount of comic relief to keep the audience pleased and attached to the underlying gloom of the story.
Rebhorn portrays the forthright father brilliantly, and the audience comes to hate how brutally true his sometimes-public advice could be. His performance evokes painful memories of parental correctness we all know and hate. Kane was equally effective portraying a very different role—that of the ditsy, disconnected mother full of clueless ‘wisdom.’
Sleepwalk with Me explores the inevitable disappointments in life. Often people hold on to what they think they have in denial of their true situation because they are afraid of losing or hurting someone, ultimately settling for mediocrity.
Sleepwalk with Me captures this beautifully with its hysterical interludes and bittersweet ending, ultimately forcing us to ask, “Is this really the life I want?”