My Favorite Movies – Sleepwalk With Me (2012)

20 May

By Tanner Smith

I have a real interest in films that are written from a real place, like the screenwriters had funny experiences happen to them in difficult circumstances–for example, scripts like 50/50 and The Farewell and even “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” was written from some sort of “write-what-you-know” experience.

Here’s a story about standup comedian Mike Birbiglia, originally told in his one-man Off-Broadway show and on an episode of the radio program “This American Life” (a great showcase for these kinds of stories that could be made into films easily). For a while, Birbiglia had issues with REM sleep behavioral disorder due to unexpressed anxiety. This resulted in some really bad sleepwalking experiences, which Birbiglia wouldn’t see anybody about…until he suffered an unfortunate incident in which, while sleepwalking, he broke through a second-story hotel room window and one of the shards was dangerously close to his femoral artery!

No joke–he could’ve bled to death! Since then, he’s gotten help and turned his plight into art with his one-man show, “This American Life,” and this film, “Sleepwalk With Me,” which he co-wrote and co-directed (with Seth Barrish)–he also stars in it as a semi-autobiographical version of himself: Matt Pandamiglio, aspiring comedian (not too much of a stretch).

I didn’t know who Mike Birbiglia was until I saw the film “Don’t Think Twice,” which he also directed, co-wrote, and co-starred in. After that, I looked up what else this guy was famous for (and I remembered he was also in “The Fault in Our Stars”) and I came across this story and was like, “Whoa, dude, that needs to be a movie!” And to my surprise, it WAS a movie–it came out in 2012, it got good reviews (including shoutouts from Roger Ebert and Judd Apatow), and obviously I missed it.

I checked it out from my local library one day and was instantly blown away.

For one thing, while Mike Birbiglia isn’t the most polished actor, he’s got an everyman likability to himself that makes him enough of a goofball for me to laugh at him but enough of a relatable guy for me to like him…even when his character of Matt Pandamiglio learns that he scores the biggest laughs in his standup comedy by turning his emotional plights (such as the questionable fate of his relationship with his girlfriend, played by Lauren Ambrose) into a part of his act. Yeah, it’s a jerk move to make fun of his relationship without letting his girlfriend in on the joke, but at least it still shows where it comes from, thus making for a fascinating character/dramatic study.

The film also works wonderfully as performance art, as Birbiglia pulls a lot of tricks like breaking the fourth wall and showing us visual representations of his wildest dreams–my favorite of these sequences involves infidelity and a “pizza pillow.”

And it of course leads to the inevitable moment in which he notoriously breaks his way out of his second-story hotel room and onto the ground below and later has to get glass splinters removed from his legs (the result of which was 33 stitches). I have to wonder what reliving that experience for film was like for Birbiglia…

Is it funny because it’s true? Is it funny despite being true? Maybe what it is is a story so crazy that it must be true. Everyone likes to hear crazy stories, ESPECIALLY if they’re true.

Side-note: three movies I watched the most amount of times during the Covid-19 lockdown–“Begin Again,” “Brigsby Bear,” and “Sleepwalk With Me.”

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