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(2012) (Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose) (Not Rated)

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Dramedy: A struggling stand-up comedian, who suffers from a sleepwalking disorder, attempts to hone his act while trying to figure out his long-term relationship with his live-in girlfriend.
Matt Pandamiglio (MIKE BIRBIGLIA) wants to be a stand-up comedian, and occasionally gets to do brief bits on stage at the comedy club where he works as a bartender. His live-in girlfriend, Abby (LAUREN AMBROSE), is supportive of him, as is his mother, Linda (CAROL KANE). But his father, Frank (JAMES REBHORN), wishes he'd be more successful in life like Matt's sister, Janet (CRISTIN MILOTI), who's engaged to Philip (BEN LEVIN).

As told in flashback by Matt, the aspiring comic recounts his attempts of honing his act, all while trying to figure out where his eight-year relationship with Abby is headed. Things take an unexpected turn when one stand-up gig turns into an extended tour of many, all of which leaves him on the road for an increasing amount of time. While that gives him the opportunity to reassess his future with Abby, his growing exhaustion leads to increased bouts of his sleepwalking disorder.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
I'm not sure of the exact psychological reason behind the syndrome, but many people hate speaking in public. I don't mean simply talking outdoors or within earshot of others. No, I'm referring to getting up in front of a group of people, having their undivided attention, and making an announcement, speech or presentation of some sort. And the longer that is and the bigger the crowd, the greater the fear.

More than likely, that stems from a fear of being judged by others, especially in terms of having something interesting to say, making that long enough to hold the audience's attention but not too lengthy to bore them, and not having any miscues or bumbling during that. Imagine then, taking that scenario and trying to make people laugh.

The old saying goes "Dying is easy...Comedy is hard," and I guess there are plenty of comedians who've performed in public and (sort of) wished the former would occur to alleviate their pain of bombing during their comedy routine. And for every successful stand-up comic, there are the mostly unseen and unnoted moments of them failing miserably time and again while honing their act and craft, all while holding down service jobs to make ends meet.

That's part of the subject matter in "Sleepwalk With Me," a first time effort from co-directors and co-writers Mike Birbiglia and Seth Barrish where the former also plays the protagonist. Along with fellow scribes Ira Glass and Joe Birbiglia they offer something of an inside look at the world of such people, what motivates them and what fuels their material.

Films about or featuring stand-up comedians are nothing new, but as movies such as "Punchline" have proven, it's not as easy as one might otherwise think to make a funny film about funny people. This flick has some humorous and amusing moments, but nothing -- at least to me -- that will result in fits of uncontrollable laughter.

Then again, I don't think that was the intention, as the goal appears to be that of creating an intimate dramedy about a down on his luck guy who doesn't seem to have what it takes for his chosen vocation, isn't completely committed to his relationship (with his girlfriend played by Lauren Ambrose) and happens to suffer from REM Behavior Disorder or sleepwalking as the rest of the world calls it.

Told in flashback by the main character (who talks directly to the viewer at the beginning of the film and then occasionally thereafter), all of that's presented in a believable way. But what makes it a tad more interesting is that it (or most of it) is reportedly based on true situations (including that of him diving out a closed motel room window), all of which lead to Birbiglia creating a one-man, off-Broadway show and then the novel "Sleepwalk With Me & Other Painfully True Stories."

Most people love an underdog story and the filmmakers milk that here for everything it's worth, but in an understated and nuanced way that keeps it from feeling manipulative. When most people hear of stand-up comedians, they think of the old Eddie Murphy or Richard Pryor "concert" films, appearances on late-night TV talk shows, or recorded and polished specials on The Comedy Channel.

In reality, it's a down and dirty business hustling -- usually by car -- from one low-paying gig to the next where you're a nobody playing to an audience that can range from dozens to just a few and with little patience for material that doesn't work. Birbiglia's protagonist bombs enough to be considered an old and clunky B-17, but he keeps at it, eventually honing his material once he starts joking about his personal life.

All of his time on the road, however, not only leads to temptations, but also a further strain on his romantic relationship and a level of exhaustion that only exacerbates his wild dreams and thus sleepwalking disorder. While that might not sound terribly funny -- and it isn't -- the character and thus the film grew on me a bit as it continued to unfold.

That said, the overall effort never really amounts to much, and despite a few imaginative portrayals of some of the protagonist's dreams, the filmmakers aren't creative enough with the setup to differentiate their offering from other similar tales. And while Birbiglia is decent doing the down-on-his-luck loser bit, he's no Woody Allen, at least in that comedian's prime. Okay, but likely to put some viewers to sleep, "Sleepwalk With Me" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 10, 2012 / Posted September 14, 2012

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