Stars: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, James Rebhorn, Carol Kane, Cristin Milioti, Amanda Perez, Aya Cash, Emily Meade, Jessi Klein and Loudon Wainwright III.
Writers: Mike Birbiglia, Ira Glass, Joe Birbiglia and Seth Barrish.
Directors: Mike Birbiglia and Seth Barrish.
The street-cred of This American Life guru Ira Glass, lending his talents to producer and writer duties here, may afford Mike Birbiglia’s leading-man debut far more cultural influence than it deserves. Sleepwalk With Me is a disposably sweet ‘Annie Hall’ rehash that achieves its minor ambitions with unremarkable efficiency.
Playing all their charm cards in their film’s first act, Birbiglia and co-director Seth Barrish explore the life of a commitment-phobic struggling comic with somnambulistic tendencies. The film, an expanded version of the star’s hit staged monologue of 2008, is structured as a flashback as Birbiglia’s Matt drives between gigs, recalling the life he shared for eight years with muso Abby (Lauren Ambrose, the film’s biggest asset).
This oddly unaffecting portrait of a thirty-something man trying to interpret long-term romance through the filter of his own immaturity and cynicism blends old-fashioned rom-com beats with post-modern dialogue. But the determinedly stoic lack of warmth in any of the characters makes it tough to connect with the film. Even character actor veterans like James Rebhorn and Carol Kane, cast as the parents of Matt and called upon to up the cute old-folk comedy content, can’t breathe much life into stock parts.
Matt finds some success while on the road; the extras employed to laugh at his routine laugh at his routine, but none of the material (which begins to draw rather disrespectfully upon his anxious view of marriage and his long term relationship with Abby) ever seems particularly funny. Bit parts from comics familiar to the target audience (Wyatt Cenac, Kristen Schaal) will up the likability of the film to the key demo (the ploy of casting recognisable faces in two-line walk-ons is as old cinema itself).
Most scenes between Matt and Ambrose’s Abby are worth the price of admission, but they spend a significant mid-section of the film apart once he gets stand-up slots across America’s north-east. On his own, Birbiglia proves an increasingly grating presence, despite some funny lines. One might search for symbolism in Matt’s sleepwalking activities, though it never impacts in anything other than minor comedic terms.
The influence of Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning classic becomes a little too transparent. In one scene, Birbiglia conjures sleep disorder specialist William Dement for much the same but far less impactful purpose as Allen summoned author Marshall McLuhan. Ambrose is the equal of Diane Keaton’s Annie, a beautiful, talented musician who foregoes the momentum of her career to fall in love with a beneath-her-status dweeb. The deeper one digs into the comparison, the less charitable one tends to feel towards the 2012 version.
Though pleasingly amiable, the film’s standing amongst indie festival crowds and some critic groups (astonishingly, it was placed amongst the National Board of Review’s Top Ten Independent Films list of 2012) only serves to prove how meagre the pickings are from the current wave of American independent auteurs.