Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sleepwalk With Me (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

Sleepwalk with Me

Mike Birbiglia's autobiographical film, "Sleepwalk with Me" is a solid comic experience. It is an inspired hybrid: a gentle version of a Louis C.K. mixed with a dose of a tranquil Woody Allen. 
As improbable as this might appear, "Sleepwalk with Me", draws you in with an easy smoothness and despite its somnambulant title, your eyelids will never get heavy.

Birbiglia himself plays Matt, a guy so casual and nice he is almost painful to watch. Matt is shy and easygoing, and just about the only things that make him nervous are his overbearing parents, his mom (Carol Kane) and his condescending father, (James Rebhorn) along with a debilitating sleepwalking disorder that follows Matt everywhere like a narcoleptic poltergeist. 

The film is plainly told and without decoration. If anything, it is a throwback to the films "One Trick Pony", by Robert Young, the Paul Simon road movie from 1980 and John Schlesinger's"Midnight Cowboy" (1969). These films were earthy naturalistic tales of well meaning people just trying to make it and hopefully not becoming used up along the way.
Matt is a hopeful  stand-up comedian who just can't get a job and isn't all that funny on stage. He struggles. Time and time again, he speaks with a halting monotone voice. He is just too bland and unassuming. He takes a job as a bartender in a local comedy club and voyeuristically  watches others rise to mediocrity. Matt's  cute and effervescent girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose) who is a bit like Olive Oyl refashioned for the 21st century, gently prods him to be more ambitious. Matt meets a mid-level agent by chance and begins to take long distance  gigs as a replacement host and last minute comic at dives in Trenton and other bland environs. The long hours on the road coupled with his anxiety over his isolating relations with Abby, only increase his sleepwalking and he starts to have violent episodes. His parents urge him to seek help but he refuses, fearful of change.
This is one of the most direct and perceptive films I have ever seen regarding fear and relationship stress. The film does not have the smooth panache of "Hope Springs" but it has just as much awkward and genuine confrontation. Traveling has never seemed more gritty or as empty. Most of the time spent is done waiting, with sparse small talk and chatter.
And even though Matt's sleep disorder becomes unbearable, he treats it like a quizzical friend, a quirky happenstance that is occasionally malevolent and quite disturbing. We get the feeling that Mike or Matt (in the film) can handle anything though his very nonchalance and his almost Zen passivity. 
There is one small scene involving a pizza pillow that is too over the top to make much of the haunting impact that most  genuine dreams possess, but despite this minor misstep, I found this film subtle and refreshing, with a confessional spirit that ranks with the bounce of a Judd Apatow relationship study. At one point, the film directly quotes Woody Allen as it shows Matt running though an open field in the manner of "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)". (1972) We almost see that giant squirting breast.
But no cigar.
Despite its softness in tone, the film moves along with an ebullient bounce that is hard to ignore. In highlighting life on the road and romantic discontent, Mike Birbiglia illustrates the human crisis of apprehension and the passing of time. The filmed  locations are often ochre or brown, yet this film is never melancholic or depressing. All events wobble in their own orbit. And Matt sleeps on, content in his existentialism. 
Without hesitation, Sleepwalk with Me is a deceptively casual, sharp film---a humorous sleeper that deserves undivided attention.

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