The undeniably talented Ira Glass, known for his work on “This American Life,” a radio show about real people and their real lives, has taken his work to the big screen with his film, “Sleepwalk With Me.” The film follows comedian Mike Birbiglia, fictionalized as Matt Pandamiglio, as he attempts to make a career as a comedian. However, the film is about far more than just a comedian with no money working in a bar trying to scrape any pennies he can find off the floor. Rather, it is about intricate relationships and the struggle Matt has in deciding whether or not he is ready for marriage while discovering he has a potentially life-threatening disorder.
Matt is, unfortunately, not funny, but his life provides him with the perfect material to be so. He soon discovers this when he begins to tell stories about his real life and people listen. More importantly, they laugh. Matt isn’t ready to be married, but his girlfriend of eight years is, and throughout the film Matt’s sister plans her own wedding. Most unfortunately, Matt has REM movement disorder which causes him to act out his dreams.
We first discover Matt’s sleeping disorder as he spends the night at his parents’ house. Matt continually kicks the clothes hamper because, in his dream, there is a jackal chasing him through a large field. He screams, kicks harder and makes it known that there really is a jackal, and the entire time we are with him. The view switches between a bright, dream-like vision to the darkness of the bedroom. One moment, we are with Matt running through the field, and the next we watch him frantically kick a hamper. It’s perfect. It’s hilarious.
However, we soon learn that these dreams are potentially dangerous. During a hallucination, Dr. Dement, a doctor trained in sleep disorders, tells Matt that people with the disorder have gone so far as to kill their loved ones during a dream. Immediately, we understand. Though his dreams and hallucinations are painstakingly funny to us, we know that Matt is dangerous and we need him to seek help. But he doesn’t and at this point, we are just waiting for him to unravel. The tension binds us. We need to know what will happen to him. I sincerely applaud Glass for this genius moment. The beginning of the film seemed so light-hearted and just plain funny, though we always knew the stakes were there. Suddenly, there’s a great chunk of conflict forced into our faces. What will Matt do? Will he seek help? Will he marry his girlfriend of 8 years because it seems like the right thing to do?
The one aspect of this film that I would criticize was the narration, but even this was done relatively well. Typically, I say to avoid narration at all costs. It’s unnecessary, but in “Sleepwalk With Me,” even the narration was hilarious. I might even be able to overlook its use. Right from the start of the film, we see Matt driving through a tollbooth and he addresses us, the audience, telling us that he’s going to tell us a true story. Already, we know we’re going somewhere with Matt and I think this is effective because we immediately know he wants us on his side. Later, when he makes questionably immoral decisions, he tells us, “Before I tell you this, I have to remind you. You’re on my side.” Because the narration is laced with jokes from Mike’s actual stand-up routine, the narration works for me. The ending was the one moment that didn’t. It seemed that when Matt addressed the audience again to tell us the moral of the story, it was wrapped up too perfectly. I would have rather figured it out on my own than be told directly.
My criticism is so little for this film and I highly recommend it for any age. Not only was it hilarious with fresh jokes, but it also represented a likely story of a couple attempting to understand their future. Glass created a perfect balance of funny and somber and I cannot wait to see what else he has in store.
Rating: 4 Stars