The largely truth-based "Sleepwalk with Me" first came to fruition as a stand-up comedy monologue by Mike Birbiglia on Ira Glass' radio program "This American Life." The stories he told, at once crazy enough to be noteworthy and relatable enough to be understood, took on a certain (American) life of their own, ultimately developing into Birbiglia's feature writing-directing debut. Co-directed by Seth Barrish and co-penned by Joe Birbiglia and Ira Glass, "Sleepwalk with Me" is small in scope but nothing short of honest, an indie relationship comedy that doesn't shake the ground with innovation, yet is difficult to resist or put down because of the level of care and raw earnestness that has been brought to its telling. The real find, above all else, is Mike Birbiglia himself. He's had small roles in a handful of films (2012's "Your Sister's Sister
" was his most recent), but this is the first time he's been front and center. The movie hinges upon how well he is able to carry the material and how easily the viewer sympathizes with him. Fortunately, he's as sure of a natural in front of the camera as he is behind it.
When his younger sister Janet (Cristin Milioti) gets married, it stands only as a reminder of how ill-prepared Matt Pandamiglio (Mike Birbiglia) feels about the idea of settling down into adulthood and making a family of his own. He's been in a relationship with the lovely Abby (Lauren Ambrose) for eight years and the two have recently moved in together. All seems to be well until Abby is reminded that she is with someone who can't commit. If he can't even fathom the idea of marrying her, then what does that say about their relationship? For Matt, it is not that he doesn't love Abbyhe doesbut that he's still in the process of trying to find himself. Working as a bartender while dreaming of becoming a stand-up comic, he convinces small-time manager Colleen (Sondra James) to take him on as a client. Before long, his schedule is stacking up with relatively thankless east coast gigsa necessary evil in order to get his foot in the door, but also causing he and Abby to spend a lot of time apart. Stricken with an increasingly dangerous recurring bout of sleepwalking even as he is finally getting a handle on his career, Matt is faced with making some life-changing decisions. After all, Abby isn't going to wait around forever.
Matt's pre-midlife crisis will no doubt leave some viewers nodding their heads in acknowledgment and others shaking them, experiencing an urge to slap some sense into this guy who's found the perfect girl, but is still too wrapped up in himself to fully be there for her. Indeed, there are occasions in "Sleepwalk with Me" where Matt does not say what he should, the connection with Abby short-circuiting before they've had a chance to talk it out and see where each other is coming from. If this is frustrating, it is also all too believable, writer-director-actor Mike Birbiglia achieving a great deal of mileage from his, some might say, too-short 80-minute running time. In Birbiglia is an imperfect protagonist depicted with just enough insight and care that it's impossible to write him off (the milieu of small-time comedy gigs he travels for are painfully on-target, too), and in Lauren Ambrose (2012's "Wanderlust
") is an irresistible co-star, her Abby an intelligent, supportive young woman who isn't concerned with marriage so much as she is in knowing that they are moving forward in their relationship. James Rebhorn (2012's "The Odd Life of Timothy Green
") and Carol Kane (2010's "The Bounty Hunter
") additionally lend fine support as Matt's quirky but loving parents. "Sleepwalk with Me" poses the idea that certain doomed romances drag on for too long simply because neither party wants to hurt the other. Caring too much is a far cry from the typical catty back-stabbing often portrayed in movies, and for that, the film carves out a thoughtful, unassuming niche for itself.