Tuesday, August 21, 2012

SLEEPWALK WITH ME: Mike Birbiglia's one-man-show opens out into a movie version

I didn't see the popular and critically acclaimed one-man-show by comic Mike Birbiglia called SLEEPWALK WITH ME, so, other than knowing that the movie stemmed from a solo theater piece, I knew almost nothing about it. Or about Mr. Birbiglia, who turned out -- for TrustMovies, at least -- to be a seemingly unintentionally funny guy. Low-keyed in the extreme, he comes at you sideways, sort of out of the corner of your eye. You don't at first quite pay full attention. And then you start to snicker. And pretty soon, as you get to know his odd sense of humor, get to know him, you begin to full out laugh, while understanding that almost nobody else you've seen or heard would be able to do or say what this guy is doing/saying and still be funny.

The humor here and the character (the writer, director and star is shown at right) are inextricably wrapped up in each other. And sometimes, they're less funny than kind of sad. Even a tad, dare we say it, ugly. But in that "aren't-we-cute-but-gosh-we're-so-irres-ponsible!" manner that we guys can dress up in to win back the love of our life -- to whom we've just been, once again, a complete jerk.

In his one-man-show, this nebbishy, unprepossessing character (but still he's kinda sweet, even rather sexy, in his way) would be all that we see. The other folk -- parents, girlfriend, employers, agent -- we'd view only through Birbiglia's eyes and voice. In this movie, however, they're all here, squarely in front us, and played by some consummate actors like James Rebhorn (dad: top right, above) and Carole Kane (mom, bottom right, above), and in particular, Lauren Ambrose (center, left), as Mike's much put-upon girlfriend, Abby.

Parents are always parents, after all -- a whole generation (probably 20 years!) away -- and so are simply on a different wave-length. But Abby, well, she's another story: the same (or near the same) age, smart and sweet, forgiving and caring, but... she wants a commitment. Of course this would send so many self-respecting but grossly immature American males into a tailspin, and our Mike is one of these. All this and more -- how he becomes a stand-up comic, for instance -- is told in his new movie.

As a filmmaker, Birbiglia breaks the theater's fourth wall, moviewise, and does some other tricks with reality and fantasy (above). A propos Abby and the lovely Ms Ambrose, she is all of those adjectives noted above, plus strong. Strong enough to understand, finally, what is going on here. About halfway through the film, as I recall (having seen it at an early screening nearly three months ago), our hero breaks that fourth wall again to say to us viewers, "At this point, I want to remind you that you are on my side." This is very smart, because of course by this time many of us will indeed have started siding with Abby.

It is via these little stylistic touches that Birbiglia manages to keep his head on straight, as they say. He's telling us, "Yes, I was a jerk -- but I'm only human. And a man." The sleepwalking of the  title, by the way, is evidently a genuine problem for the filmmaker: good for some laughs, yes, but bad for other things. Over all, the movie's a fine first film: funny, special, sad, and pretty much guaranteed to make you want to see whatever Birbiglia tackles next.  

From IFC Films and running 90 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, August 24, in New York City at the IFC Center, and in Los Angeles on August 31 in the Landmark NuArt Theatre, before opening in other cities and theaters in a limited release.

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