One story in particular has made him famous: While working the college circuit as a touring stand-up comic, Birbiglia had a near-fatal sleepwalking experience when he jumped through a second-story motel window. Birbiglia woke up, calmly requested an ambulance and spent the night in the ER. He would later be diagnosed with a rare and dangerous sleep disorder.
Birbiglia has since mined the dark humor and weirdness of that single story into a hit comedy special, an off-Broadway show, a bestselling book and now a very funny independent film – new to DVD and Blu-ray after a relatively successful run in theaters.
Now that's a good story.
Co-written and directed by Birbiglia, Sleepwalk With Me showcases the performer's old-school narrative style of comedy. The film was produced by Ira Glass, host of public radio show This American Life, and if nothing else, Sleepwalk is a celebration of the well-told funny story.
Birbiglia plays Matt Pandamiglio, a fictional version of himself during those hardscrabble years as a touring comic. Matt's career is going nowhere and he can't quite commit to his girlfriend of eight years, played by Lauren Ambrose. Matt's free-floating anxiety manifests in sleepwalking episodes that grow increasingly strange.
There are plenty of good laughs in Sleepwalk, and this is one of those under-the-radar indie comedies that should attract a wider audience on home video, once word gets around. (Birbiglia also had a small role in the similarly modest Cedar Rapids, one of last year's best comedies.) Movies like this should be supported and encouraged, I think, in that they break the mold of typical studio fare by presenting one artist's specific comedic vision.
It's a comedy nerd thing, I guess. The movie is packed with cameos from other indie types in the world of funny business, including Marc Maron, David Wain, Kristen Schaal, Wyatt Cenac and Jessi Klein. Industry veterans Carol Kane and James Rebhorn also chip in with very funny performances as Matt's concerned parents.
Extras: A big part of the fun with independent films, when released to home video, is that you get to hear the stories behind the story. Sleepwalk With Me comes with an array of extras exclusive to DVD and Blu-ray – outtakes, a making-of doc and a suite of feautrettes on various aspects of the production.
These are unusually compelling extras, with Birbiglia narrating the challenges of being a first-time director on a decidedly DIY picture: “It's like being in eighth grade and getting on the school bus, then telling everyone, 'Actually, I'm going to drive the school bus today!'” Also look for a revealing Q&A with Birbiglia and Glass moderated by Joss Whedon, director of another little film this year called The Avengers.
Also New This Week:
Total Recall: Colin Farrell stars in the remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi blockbuster.
Premium Rush: Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays an NYC bicycle messenger on the run from crooked cops.
Trouble With the Curve: An aging baseball scout (Clint Eastwood) reconnects with his adult daughter (Amy Adams).
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days: The surprisingly funny family film series, based on the surprisingly funny books, gets its third feature installment.
Liberal Arts: Josh Radnor (TV's How I Met Your Mother) writes, directs and stars in this back-to-college comedy, with Elizabeth Olsen and Richard Jenkins.
Note: This was written by Glenn McDonald, a Digital Crave contributor.
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