Mike Birbiglia’s mostly true tale of the unraveling of an eight-year relationship, his struggle with a serious sleep disorder and his attempts to make it as a comic is deeply heartfelt and bitingly hilarious.

It’s amazing that, more or less, this tale of comedian Mike Birbiglia’s life is true. Edited and tweaked for cinematic impact, of course, it chronicles a tough time in the life of Birbiglia’s alter ego Matt Pandamiglio. More of a wannabe comic than struggling, really, he works as a bartender at a comic club and just moved in with his girlfriend of nearly eight years, Abby (Lauren Ambrose).

One night, they attend a party at his parents house (delightfully played by the slightly curmudgeon James Rebhorn and the almost-airhead Carol Kane) where his sister Janet (Cristin Milioti) announces her engagement. Of course, this prompts questions about he future of his relationship with Abby and that night she, and his mother, wake up to find him trying to get rid of an imaginary jackal in his sleep. On top of the stress of marriage, and what he hopes is a one-off sleepwalking event, he tries his best to advance from barman to bonafide comic.

Co-written by Ira Glass, on whose program This American Life Birbiglia first told this story, it’s a film about comics, as comedians are want to do, but at it’s core it’s a film about the relationship of Matt and Abby. Despite being together for almost a decade, they’re just moving in together and Matt is reluctant about marriage. As Marc Maron aka Marc Mulheren is giving advice to Matt after a disastrous set, Matt quips “I only want to get married once I know nothing else good will happen in my life.” Marc tells him he should put that in his set. And so Matt does, on a seemingly never ending road trip around the Northeast, haphazardly booked by his new agent. His set is increasingly about the serious issues of his relationship but has yet to express any of it to Abby. As the stress of his seemingly deteriorating relationship and exhaustion of the “tour” wear on him, his sleepwalking gets worse.

He continues to act out his dreams, once waking up in the shower at a fellow comic’s house he’s crashing at, but continues to ignore the severity of the issue, just like his relationship with Abby. Filled with small comics by fellow comics like Maron (and an even smaller cameo by Loudon Wainwright III as Matt’s Uncle including a great duet with Ambrose), it’s a comedian’s film, for sure, but it has more depth than most. While Birbiglia has already proved himself a capable storyteller Sleepwalk with Me (which he co-wrote and co-directed along with starring in) posits that he may have a bright future as a filmmaker. Using his deadpan humor and wit to cut through what is truly a dark and tearful tale, Birbiglia crafts a funny film that actually has something to say.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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