Friday, January 11, 2013

Multi-Media, January 11, 2013

Sleep, My Enemy
Mike Birbiglia transforms his solo into a gem
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

I am an unabashed fan of everything Mike Birbilia does. I even think his Twitter feed is brilliant.

I was introduced to his work as a standup years ago when iTunes told me "If you like this, you might also like this" and the second "this" was My Secret Public Journal, a sweet, hilarious assortment of only mildly exaggerated true stories about his life. From there it was Two Drink Mike and I was hooked. When, back at the beginning of the CharPo enterprise, I had the chance to see him on stage I jumped. 

Then he released the recording of Sleepwalk With Me and Birbiglia's greatness was revealed: good old laughter through tears.

Birbiglia was now doing something more and less than standup. Like the great Eddie Izzard (who has publicly stated he admires Birbiglia), he was now telling a single story while veering off on tangents that were as hilarious as they seemed random. In the show I saw, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, I saw that the man was a genius. He was basically doing the same things as on his recordings but the physical aspect of the evening - the one or two sight-gags - were subtle, understated and screamingly funny, played against the evenness of the comic's tone. Then he released the recording of Sleepwalk With Me and Birbiglia's greatness was revealed: good old laughter through tears. Both Boyfriend and Sleepwalk tell a funny/sad story of love, circumstance and rupture.

Now the movie. Well...

Birbiglia has produced and codirected the adaptation with This American Life's host, Ira Glass (a man who knows a deliciously quirky story when he sees one). He cowrote the screenplay with Glass, his brother Joe (the famous Joe "Joe Bags" Birbiglia) and codirector Seth Barrish and the team has transformed the solo with such finesse and wisdom that the finished product is not only as funny as the source material but it is even more brutal towards its protagonist (Birbiglia himself).

The story? Birbiglia is afflicted with a sleep disorder that is as rare as it is frightening: REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder. With this, a sleeper acts out his dreams, can harm himself and, in some cases, even commit murder. (Read June Callwood's The Sleepwalker for a brilliant treatise on a real case of sleep-murder.) Birbiglia shows the causes - a burgeoning career, bad habits and commitment issues - that brought on a horrific moment. 

Birbiglia proves to be a lovable actor, but he also proves his honesty, never flinching away from the pain he caused his girlfriend (played by the luminescent Lauren - Six Feet Under - Ambrose). His world becomes one of problems unsolved because of procrastination pushed to cruelty. And through it all are Birbiglia's trademark turns of phrase rendered visual and finer and funnier.

I would suggest after you have seen the film that you download the solo because there is a subplot in the latter that doesn't appear as clearly in the former: it details the extremely poignant relationship the son has with his father (played in the film by James Rebhorn). The punchline on the recording, relating to this, is awe-inspiring.

If there is any justice in this world Sleepwalk With Me would be recognized in nominations for the Oscars but as there is not, you must judge for yourself. This is, simply, a gem of indie film-making.

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