The surprise arthouse hit Sleepwalk With Me couldn’t have better indie bona fides. After all, it was produced by no less than This American Life’s Ira Glass, the unofficial Dean of Indie America. That being said, I’m a little bummed about the state of indie America.
I had actually heard comedian Mike Birbiglia—the writer, co-director, and star of Sleepwalk With Me—do his routine on "This American Life." His schtick is that he fears marriage; sees it as the end of the good stuff in life. As he says in his act (and in the movie), he’s never looked at a long-time married couple and said, “I gotta get me some of that.”
Okay, funny to an extent. And honest—I suppose. It’s just that when you see this philosophy in action, especially when his long suffering girlfriend is played by a luminous Lauren Ambrose of Six Feet Under fame—you have to ask yourself, “What’s your defect, dude?”
Birbiglia, essentially playing himself in the film—an aspiring comedian with a sleepwalking disorder—seems to know that his reluctance to commit to vocal instructor Abby after seven years, is a bit baffling.
“I just don’t want my girlfriend to be the best thing about me,” he says.
Fair enough. Then dump her. Don’t string her along, lie to her, cheat on her—all things he does throughout the course of the film.
Later, he has to remind the audience: “Now remember. You’re on my side.” (Too late, pal.)
That self-deprecating stuff is amusing, I suppose—and there are several clever bits in the film (Birbiglia’s interactions with his meddlesome family are particularly resonant). But it doesn’t solve the essential problem. I didn’t like Birbiglia. I didn’t root for him. Quite the opposite, every time I saw Abby on my screen I wanted to shake her and yell, “Run away! Be free! Escape!”
I’ve seen a variation on this film way too many times: Schlubby funny guy with improbably gorgeous girlfriend. And yet, she’s the one who wants to commit, he doesn’t. (Cause, you know those girls. They all want to get married.) Needless to say, the film in reverse would’ve been a helluva lot more interesting.
C’mon, Ira Glass, you’re better than that.