When he’s awake, Mike Birbiglia dreams of being a successful comic. When he’s asleep, he dreams of making a neck pillow out of hot pizza. Thanks to his sleepwalking — the glum inertia of his days and the literal somnambulance of his nights — the wrong dreams are coming true.
That’s the gist of Sleepwalk With Me, stand-up Birbiglia’s first feature as director, adapted from his own autobiographical piece (he suffers from “rapid eye movement behavior disorder”) for the radio anthology This American Life. The show’s producer, Ira Glass, is a co-writer and producer here, and the movie feels — for better and for just OK — like a Life episode: flatly inflected, capital-Q quirk gently trumping an already lightweight conflict.
As Sleepwalk documents the slushy days and motel nights of the roadbound comedian, Adam Beckman’s cinematography finds a queasy, magic-hour splendor in the dream sequences. Birbiglia’s direction of both of these stylistic poles is confidently matter-of-fact. But the camera finds something in Birbiglia the actor not apparent in his stage work: eyes that flash a panicky willingness to lie.
That turns out to be this movie’s secret weapon, since what plot there is involves Mike-the-character’s hesitation to marry long-suffering girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose, doing a lot with not much). She’s the one having a bad dream. This isn’t a romantic comedy about a sleepwalking man as much as it is a neat little horror movie about a peculiar strain of maybe-not-that-inadvertently bad boyfriend.