I listen to as many or more podcasts and audiobooks on my commute and driving around the state for work as I listen to music. Over the years, one of the podcasts I've listened to regularly is This American Life from NPR, which occasionally features work by comedian Mike Birbiglia. Birbigilia's stuff always feels very honest, a sort of milquetoasty Louis CK with a painful level of self-awareness.
Birbiglia has delivered his monologues on air/ podcast before regarding his issues with sleepwalking, so when I heard he was doing a movie on the topic, I more or less figured I knew what it was going to be. So, yeah, lo and behold that was pretty much exactly right.
That's not really a problem in and of itself. The monologues are terrific, and I've enjoyed them on more than one occasion. In this movie, Birbiglia pulls a sort of Woody Allen, giving himself a different name, but then playing a character who is both biographically and in character more or less the same person he puts on stage and behind the mic. I assume some facts have been changed to protect the innocent, etc... He fills in a lot of gaps from the monologues - including the story of he and his longtime girlfriend (played by Lauren Ambrose) struggling with the question of marriage.
In the context of the movie, his anxiety caused by marriage directly leads to his sleepwalking, which, in turn, leads to some physical injury and concern by those around him. The movie never really explains Matt Pandamiglio's (Birbiglia's alter ego) issue with his seemingly supportive, beautiful girlfriend who has stood by him for years while he wallowed in a kiddie-pool of self-doubt. He makes some jokes about how he's afraid he'll miss the good stuff in life if he gets married, which seems to have some weight or stand as some vague explanation, but the movie just never really clarifies what he thinks he's going to be missing or how the seemingly eternally patient, beautiful girlfriend wasn't part of that life.
It's a weird movie in that it feels like Birbiglia still hasn't really figured all this out, or that he wasn't ever willing to say what was really happening lest he hurt the patient, lovely girl even now. Which, you know, good on him... but maybe don't make a movie about it if you can't seal the deal?
The dream sequences work because they don't ever overreach - keeping a nice bit of dreamlogic without going on overly long, and the editing helps to sell it. The casting is also quite good, with Carol Kane and stalwart James Rebhorn as Birbiglia's father.
There's likely multiple ways to read the end of the movie, but the two most likely for me as a viewer were: (1) this sleepwalking is a serious condition and it really had nothing to do with the anxiety experienced at the time of the story, thus sort of spoiling our metaphor or (2) Birbiglia is still on his quest to figure out what he's doing, but didn't really put a bow on the movie. It's probably some combination, but in the brief runtime of the film, it feels a little but like the movie just ends after doing nothing but building to a question to which there's really only two answers - ultimately leading to an unsatisfying conclusion.
The movie isn't that bad, but I guess I was hoping for more than what the monologues had already given me, and a bit more to wrap up the end of the movie. For a first film, it was okay, but I think... maybe it should have been workshopped a bit more. It all feels terribly safe, and its difficult to get my head around why this was all Birbiglia had to say.
That said, the reviews have been pretty terrific, so maybe I'm missing something.