Last year, My Big Fat Greek Wedding celebrated its tenth anniversary. The surprise indie hit, based on a one-woman stage show of the same name, was born out of necessity. Nia Vardalos created a project for herself when her industry supposedly didn't have a place for a Greek comedian/actress. 10 years later after the success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Mike Birbiglia's Sleepwalk with Me was born out of a similar necessity. Birbiglia was certainly not struggling to find work with two Comedy Central specials under his belt, but there wasn't a clear place for him in the comedy world. As much a storyteller as a comedian, he was silly and endearing and so very relate-able. While his stand-up specials and albums were all excellent, I don't believe he showed his full potential until his one-man show/stand-up hybrid Sleepwalk with Me and then adapted the show into the 2012 film Sleepwalk with Me with the help of This American Life's Ira Glass. The film showcases Birbiglia as a writing, directing, and acting talent, and perhaps with its success, more opportunities will be opened to smaller budget films and storytellers like Vardalos and Birbiglia who don't fit into the typical Hollywood mold.
In Sleepwalk with Me, Mike Pandamiglio (Mike Birbiglia) is a comedian who hasn't really found his voice. He bartends at a local comedy club and occasionally gets up on stage when the headliner is late or a warm-up act falls through. His girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose) is supportive, but after 8 years of dating, she is starting to wonder how serious he is about their relationship. When Mike's sister gets engaged, the pressure is on for Mike to pop the question, and coincidentally, this is when Mike starts to get more out-of-town stand-up gigs from his new agent Colleen (Sondra James). As the stress builds, Mike begins sleepwalking with increasingly dangerous results. He climbs on furniture, runs down hallways, and even jumps through windows, all the while denying that anything is seriously wrong. On his highly unusual journey to self-discovery, Mike finds that he has what it takes to be a successful stand-up but that the life he once wanted with Abby might not be what he wants anymore.
Sleepwalk with Me, like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, is a thinly veiled autobiographical film, but Sleepwalk with Me is a much riskier project. Wedding showcased a culture not prominent in Hollywood, but it still followed the romantic comedy formula. Sleepwalk with Me doesn't easily fit into any genre. There is a love story, but it's more about falling out of love than in love. It is too funny to be a drama, but there are moments that cut to the core. Near the end of the film, Mike and Abby are sitting together and quietly ending their relationship. For anyone that has ended a long-term relationship, this scene feels eerily real and very sad, and yet in the very next scene, Mike ponders how they almost got married because they didn't want to make the other person mad. It is a laughable notion, and yet it is something that people still do all the time.
What I hope people take away from Sleepwalk with Me, aside from enjoying one of the most original films of 2012, is that there should be more of these smaller, personal movies. Too often, Hollywood gets caught up in making something bigger and louder with casts packed full of A-list stars. I would love it if Ira Glass took the success of Sleepwalk with Me as a sign to produce more lower-budget films and tell stories that don't easily fall into one genre. It is possible to tell a wholly original story on film today, and Sleepwalk with Me shows how it can be done.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
Special features include a making-of featurette, outtakes, behind-the-scenes shorts, commentary by Birbiglia and Ira Glass, the theatrical trailer, and a Q&A with Birbiglia and Glass moderated by Joss Whedon. It almost goes without saying, but the Q&A with Whedon is delightful and worth picking up the Blu-ray release.
"Sleepwalk with Me" is on sale December 18, 2012 and is rated PG13. Comedy, Drama, Romance. Directed by Mike Birbiglia, Seth Barrish. Written by Mike Birbiglia, Joe Birbiglia, Ira Glass, Seth Barrish. Starring Lauren Ambrose, Mike Birbiglia.