“Sleepwalk with Me”

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This slight movie struck me as an exercise in self-indulgence.  I had read about it before seeing it, and the article seemed most interested in the fact that it is the first movie to be made from a radio segment, and the first movie produced by NPR’s (or one of those) “This American Life.”   It is not that those two things are not true, but they didn’t seem like big deals to me.  Nor did the movie, unfortunately.   I see now why the article had that focus — those possibly are the most interesting things about the film.

Here is the description from my theater’s website:

A burgeoning [sic — ?!]stand-up comedian struggles with the stress of a stalled career, a stale relationship, and the wild spurts of severe sleepwalking he is desperate to ignore.

Winner of a 2012 Audience Award at Sundance, comedian Mike Birbiglia wrote, directed and stars in this sincere and hilarious film, based on his off-Broadway show and bestselling book. It’s also the first movie co-written by Ira Glass and co-produced by This American Life. The story: when an aspiring stand-up fails to express his true feelings about his girlfriend and his stalled career, his anxiety comes out in increasingly funny and dangerous sleepwalking incidents. Sleepwalk with Me features Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under), Carol Kane (Taxi [What, that in their minds is the most notable movie she has been in?!]), James Rebhorn (Meet the Parents), Cristin Milioti (star of Broadway’s Once), plus comedians Marc Maron, Kristen Schaal, Wyatt Cenac, Jesse Klein, Henry Phillips and David Wain.”

Disappointing would be a good adjective for it.  I guess it was interesting seeing the comedian get better at his jokes when he drew upon his actual life, but honestly, there wasn’t enough material to build a whole movie around.  And I didn’t even remember that I had actually heard the original version on the radio a few years ago, until the dramatic action climax, so it wasn’t as though I was bored by a story I already knew — at least not consciously.   After I did remember that, I recalled some humorous bits the movie left out, right after the dramatic action scene near the end, but I suppose they didn’t fit the new plot.

The setup is that the main character is talking to someone — the filmmaker? — while driving, some time after the events he describes, which are then shown to us in lengthy flashbacks.   (He seemed to me to take his eyes off the road far too long at a time in order to make eye contact with his unseen companion, which automatically made me anxious.   He never did hit anything, though.  I guess if I were to see it again, I would be able to avoid that anxiety, just as I could finally avoid worrying about the dog in “The Big Lebowski” the last time I saw it.   But I doubt that I will be seeing this one again.)

There were some funny scenes, and I think the actors did a decent job, but unless you have a free pass and there is nothing you like to watch on television that night, I am not recommending you go out of your way to see this movie.  Watch it — or some of it — on TV if it gets there, but I expect you have better things to do with your time.  You could listen to the radio, for one thing!

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