Comedian Mike Birbiglia has a secret: he has REM behavior disorder, a sleep disorder where you act out your dreams in real life.
As one can imagine, this can become dangerous when you wake up to find yourself standing on a heater, or jumping out of a closed second-story motel window. As Dr. William C. Dement writes in his book, “The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night’s Sleep,” in extreme cases of REM behavior disorders, one might murder their loved ones while they sleep.
While Birbiglia has shared his secret in his book, “Sleepwalk With Me: And Other Painfully True Stories”; on the NPR’s documentary radio show “This American Life”; and on his stand-up comedy tours, his new film, “Sleepwalk With Me” — written by himself, his brother Joe Birbiglia, “This American Life” host Ira Glass, and the film’s co-director Seth Barrish — also retells his real life experiences.
Birbiglia acts himself, or Matt Pandamiglio, a butchering of his name, while he contemplates marriage with his longtime girlfriend, Abby (Lauren Ambrose), while simultaneously working as a bartender and a comedian. With the pressure to get married and have children, Birbiglia’s REM behavior disorder and sleepwalking gets worse — to the point where he can be found raiding the fridge at night or talking a shower while asleep.
Birbiglia is hardly the first person to get cold feet before marriage or to worry about hitting his thirties. Sondheim’s musical “Company” also features a bachelor in his thirties contemplating settling down while he watches all his friends’ relationships. After all, who can forget Raul Esparza‘s or Neil Patrick Harris’ performance as Bobby, singing “Being Alive,” a song with lines such as, “Someone to hold you too close/Someone to hurt you too deep/ Someone to sit in your chair/ To ruin your sleep.”
As Birbiglia says in his comedic act, “I don’t want to get married until I’m sure there’s nothing else good that can happen in my life.”
Well, as one can imagine, Birbiglia’s unique story, combined with its comedic potential, is poised for cheap laughs; however, it also provides commentary for a sad reality. His film resembles a cross between an extended 90-minute sitcom and an extended “This American Life” episode. Birbiglia resembles Jason Segel from “How I Met Your Mother” and “Freaks and Geeks” fame. Meanwhile, the segments about what it’s like to fall in love with his girlfriend and his sleep disorder are structured like different acts in a “This American Life” episode. As Birbiglia narrates his story while driving in the car, inviting the audience to “sleepwalk with him,” Birbiglia reveals honesty and tenderness, which the audience will remember even more than the film’s comedy.
“Sleepwalk With Me” is directed by Mike Birbiglia and Seth Barrish.