Reporting Bill Wine
By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — He’s a stand-up comic, a sit-down storyteller, and a fall-down sleepwalker.
So, between his life-threatening slumber disorder and the contentment-threatening disorder of his often-awkward personal life, Mike Pandamiglio is sleepwalking through a stressful life.
Sleepwalk With Me is an amiable, semi-autobiographical adaptation of comedian Mike Birbiglia’s one-man stand-up act, off-Broadway show, comedy album, and memoir.
Pandamiglio is Birbiglia’s alter ego, a young comedian with barely enough material for a full set who lives in Brooklyn with his patient and supportive longtime girlfriend, Abby, played by Lauren Ambrose. She’d very much like to be married, a yearning Pandamiglio doesn’t share.
Birbiglia/Pandamiglio, breaking the fourth wall by addressing the audience directly and providing intermittent voiceover narration, works as a bartender in a comedy club and struggles to get stand-up gigs, usually for minimal money and underpopulated audiences.
What’s been happening ever since Mike relented and compromised by moving in with Abby is that he has found himself sleepwalking.
And the chronic sleepwalking is both metaphoric and real, as he self-destructively acts out his nightmares, some of them very dangerous.
Performer Birbiglia, playing about a decade younger than he is, also serves as co-writer and co-director (his directorial debut). His anxiety-ridden, melancholic lead character is a guy who is in denial on several levels.
The screenplay (co-written by Ira Glass, the public radio host of “This American Life,” on which Birbiglia appeared, and by acting teacher Seth Barrish and Birbiglia’s stand-up comedian brother, Joe) provides a behind-the-curtain look at a comedian’s lot, giving us a fascinating glimpse at life on the road and the camaraderie of the comedy community.
And the Birbiglia-Barrish direction keeps the proceedings appropriately casual, episodic, and even meandering, an approach that actually works for a movie this small-scale and intimate.
With unforced chemistry between Birbiglia and the luminous Ambrose, old pros Carol Kane and James Rebhorn as Mike’s parents -– she a distracted eccentric, he a demanding neurosurgeon -– and several real standup comedians playing versions of themselves that add to the feeling of authenticity and downbeat merriment, Birbiglia avoids the trap of seeming vain or self-indulgent.
Unfortunately, the narrative arc feels unfinished — the film stops rather than ends — with a conclusion that doesn’t quite do justice to the material that precedes it.
But, ultimately, this resourceful, micro-budgeted oddity sits squarely on comedian Birbiglia’s shoulders, and he does it proud, proving to be quirky, self-deprecating, and naturally funny.
So we’ll awaken 2½ stars out of 4 for a brief and modest somnambulism comedy that mixes intelligent humor with honest emotion. Sleepwalk With Me is a likable, laugh-able, but perhaps limited lark.