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Feature


When an aspiring stand-up fails to express his true feelings about his girlfriend and his stalled career, his anxiety comes out in increasingly funny and dangerous sleepwalking incidents. (From the IFC synopsis)

 Sleepwalk With Me
If there is any podcast/radio program that I would recommend to every person on this earth, it is This American Life. Each episode is a wonderful series of journalism stories, short fiction, memoirs, or the occasional monologue from a gifted writer like David Sedaris. At the end of every episode I feel enriched with knowledge and world views that I didn't possess before. The producers of the show produced this film. It was through this radio show that I first heard of comedian Mike Birbiglia. In an episode focused on "Fear of Sleep", he read an excerpt from a one-man show titled "Sleepwalk With Me". Birbiglia isn't the kind of comic that keeps you rolling with one-liners or raunchy tales. The kinds of laughs he elicits come from a place of personal storytelling and perfectly measured self-effacing. His everyman appeal and intimate revelations make for the kind of lasting laughs that are warm and heartfelt. You'd be hard pressed to find a more likable and modest comedian. His monologue works so well, so I was curious to see how his style of humor would translate to a feature film.

Playing things safe, Birbiglia guides the screenplay with a first-person narration, filmed from the passenger seat of his car. It keeps the story progression in line with his monologue, and it works on film. The story is a more or less true tale from Birbiglia's life, but here he gives his character the amusing pseudonym Matt Padamiglio. Matt is in a long term relationship with Abby, played by the very capable Lauren Ambrose who held her own with Frank Langella in Starting Out in the Evening. With a recent wedding in the family the pressure is on Matt to propose to his girlfriend. But it doesn't feel right. On top of that conflict, Matt is struggling to makes ends meet with low wage jobs while he pursues a flailing career as a stand-up comedian. Though Matt is a very sweet guy who means well, his bottled up stress beings to manifest itself through a series of sleepwalking incidents; many of which end up in blood loss.

 Sleepwalk With Me
As he stretches his legs and tries to do more stand-up work, Birbiglia ceases the opportunity to include other comedians in supporting roles. There are brief appearances from producer Ira Glass, Kristen Schaal, Amy Schumer, Hannibal Burress, Marc Maron and more. One thing I particularly love about Sleepwalk With Me is that it does not vilify any of its characters. In most movies that follow a male character through a relationship that is falling apart tend to make the girlfriend a fun killer. Abby is a reasonable and likable person. She isn't the nagging, obsessive type that Hollywood movies have their fair share of. In the end, you care about every character. The material should be depressing. A man with deteriorating health and a big breakup don't usually fit the recipe for a feel good movie, but Sleepwalk With Me is so sweet-natured and deftly executed that you can't help but smile at the end of it. It satisfies as a personal memoir, a story of a budding comedian, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of being too complacent.

 Sleepwalk With Me

Video


IFC releases Sleepwalk With Me on Blu-ray with a reasonably good 1080p transfer. The film is on a BD-25 disc, but the movie file itself only takes up 12GB. A higher bit rate would have been preferable, as the total disc space taken up is only 20GB. Despite the lower bit rate, the image actually looks quite good. The film was shot on the Arri Alexa digital camera, which has been used for many recent blockbusters like The Avengers and Skyfall. It makes for a good looking image that a bit of compression can't do much damage to. Artefacts are relegated to a few noticeable instances of banding and blocking, but you'd have to be focusing intently on the shadowy areas of the picture to really see it. Detail is remarkably strong. Black levels are good, but they don't look quite perfect thanks to compression making its mark primarily in darker areas of the picture. There is no consistent color scheme to the film, but skin tones look very natural and the occasional wardrobe choice looks very vibrant (see Lauren Ambrose's blue outfit in the fifth cap). All in all, this is much stronger video presentation than is required for a movie of this scale.

Audio


The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that comes with this small independent feature is fitting. Dialogue is the main focus here, and whether a scene takes place in a quiet, spacious comedy club or next to a busy road, every spoken word sounds perfectly clear. Rear channels are only used for minor ambient noises, which is really all that is required of them in a movie with so little action happening on screen. Volume levels remain consistent, but at the start of the film I did have to raise the volume higher than usual to get it to an agreeable level. There isn't much going on in terms of movement or spatial effects. Everything pretty much stays front and center with this mix, which is fine really. Frequent indie composer Andrew Hollander lends a pleasant, if sometimes generic-sounding score to the film. Aside from a couple of brief and intensified dream sequences, the music is the only audio that spreads out around the room nicely and makes use of the LFE channel.

 Sleepwalk With Me

Extras


The Commentary with Mike Birbiglia and Ira Glass only solidified my feeling on the movie. These two are incredibly funny and insightful people, and they do a great job of explaining what they were going for in each scene as it plays out. Birbiglia sorts the film version of his life from reality, pointing out what scenes came from his own personal experiences and which were invented to tell the story. Glass, who produced the film, has a lot of input on the filming process and choice of story elements. He almost feels like a co-director, collaborating with Birbiglia in a lot of the decision making processes. The Making Of (HD, 13:40) is a short but sweet look at the origin of the movie and Birbiglia's challenges as a first-time director.  The cast and crew give each other a lot of credit for getting the movie made, and Ira Glass, host of This American Life and producer on the film, has a much more hands-on role in the film than I imagined. Next up is Outtakes (SD, 03:56), which mostly focus on the movie's weirdest visual gag where Mike Birbiglia is wearing a neck pillow made out of pizza while a woman sprays tomato sauce on him with a hose. Seeing the raw footage and the actors losing composure is rather amusing.

Next is a Q&A with Ira Glass and Mike Birbiglia moderated by Joss Whedon at the Writers Guild Foundation (HD, 34:02). You may have seen videos online of Joss Whedon jokingly mocking Sleepwalk With Me, fearing that this small indie movie would overtake The Avengers at the box office. This is addressed at the top of the Q&A, where Mike and Ira joke about how their per theater average on opening weekend was higher than The Avengers when Sleepwalk With Me was playing in one theater and The Avengers was playing in over 4,000. This joking around continues for the first third of the segment, then things transition into a more formal Q&A; covering subjects like translating the one-man show to the screen, and Birbiglia's challenges as a first time director. It's an insightful and funny extra that fans will be delighted with. There is a collection of Behind the Scenes Shorts (HD, 13:31), split into five segments: 'The Baby', 'The Comedians', 'Dr.Dement', 'The Cast', and 'The Creative Look'. Each lasts for a couple minutes and is filled with humorous sarcasm. Crew members complain about baby's being uncooperative, or how awful it is to work with Birbiglia. It's a great mixture of silly and educational, and fits right in with the movie's tone and the other special features.

 Sleepwalk With Me

Overall


Just like Birbiglia himself, Sleepwalk With Me is a modest but very likable film that is fueled by sincerity and charm. Birbiglia's comedic voice translates to the screen effortlessly, and he shows some real talent as a director. Some have compared the film to the early work of Woody Allen, and I think that is a fair assessment. I hope he continues to collaborate with Ira Glass and make feature films. There is little to complain about in the audio and video departments, plus there's a great assortment of funny and informative special features on this Blu-ray release from IFC.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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