Maybe you have to be there — and you should — but I felt the same giddiness throughout most of the comedy, based on Birbiglia’s one-man off-Broadway show and subsequent book, both based on a real-life experience. After a small but successful theatrical release, the film no doubt will find a wider audience on Blu-ray and DVD.
A full-time bartender/worrywart, Matt has a lot on his plate — namely, three big helpings of:
1. his serious and loving relationship with the absolutely adorable Abby, with whom he is reluctant to take the next step of marriage;
2. a burgeoning career in stand-up comedy ... if hosting a college lip-synch contest could be considered progress; and finally,
3. his sleep disorder.
The latter begins innocently enough as humorous instances of sleepwalking, such as mistaking a hamper for a wild animal (“There's a jackal in the room!”), before they manifest into events that could be life-threatening. Of course, he’s too busy booking five-minute comedy gigs to visit a doctor.
The story is true, as Birbiglia assures the audience in a prologue that breaks the fourth wall (and contains the single best “turn off your phone” reminder cinema has seen to date), and its honesty — however embarrassing it must be to our storyteller — makes Sleepwalk so refreshing.
So does the film’s storytelling. Birbiglia has co-written the Oscar-worthy screenplay with three others, including Ira Glass, host of public radio’s popular This American Life, to which Birbiglia is a regular contributor. The film unfolds in a similar manner: strong characters, well-tempered quirks, grounded situations that carry both the humor and the heartbreak of real life.
The comic’s years of experience behind the mic translate to total comfort in front of the camera, so there’s no awkwardness to Birbiglia’s performance. He’s a wonderful, instantly likable presence; even when riffing on killing babies, he projects complete innocence.
The great thing is that he’s just as assured behind the camera, as he’s making his directorial debut here. Remarkably, it is one without stumbles. —Rod Lott