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Stacy Buchanan
Film: Sleepwalk With Me
By Stacy Buchanan

From Sleepwalk with Me (Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane
and James Rebhorn.  Photo credit: Adam Beckman, IFC Films.)

September 10, 2012

There’s this great little film making some big noise, and it's back in Boston. It’s Sleepwalk with Me, and it’s about a guy who can’t get his comedy career on track, can’t decide if he wants to commit to his girlfriend, and can’t stay in bed thanks to a sleepwalking disorder. As his anxiety grows with the first two, so does the sleepwalking — each incident increasingly funny and dangerous. It’s silly, sad and serious all at once. And it’s also semi-autobiographical.

Mike Birbiglia, a Shrewsbury, Massachusetts native, really is a comedian and really does have a sleeping disorder called RBD (rapid eye movement behavior disorder) that causes him to physically react to his dreams. What kind of physical reactions, you ask? How does jumping out of a second-story window of a motel sound? This incident really happened while Birbiglia was on tour in Walla Walla, Washington and ended with him getting 33 stitches in his leg.

Birbiglia turned the experience into a book, Sleepwalk with Me: And Other Painfully True Stories, and an Off-Broadway play that swiftly gained popularity. Soon after, his "no way are those true, but they are true" stories caught the attention of This American Life host Ira Glass, and Birbiglia became a regular contributor to the show. As the working relationship progressed, so did their idea for a film.

The screenplay took over two years to produce (with Seth Barrish and Joe Birbiglia — Mike’s brother — helping) and proved challenging, as neither Birbiglia nor Glass had experience structuring stories for film. It wasn’t uncommon for Glass to ask This American Life’s Facebook fans to attend secret screenings in order to audience-test and catalog feedback. The idea underwent numerous changes and story edits, and over time became a completed movie.

Sleepwalk with Me premiered at Sundance, received rave reviews and the Audience Award, continued on to SXSW, and was the opening night film at our own Independent Film Festival, Boston earlier this year. Most recently, it grossed the third best per-theater average of the year, behind Moonrise Kingdom and To Rome with Love.

"Avengers director Joss Whedon recently declared war on our film, so we're surprised to see that our per screen average is so much higher than The Avengers at $47,698 per screen,” said Ira Glass on the Sleepwalk with Me Facebook page. “We look forward to beating his worldwide gross of $1.5 billion in the coming weeks." This was the rebuttal prompted be director Joss Whedon’s very public, and very fake, declaration of war with the film. You can watch the video here — it’s complete genius.

Sleepwalk with Me stars Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under), Carol Kane (Taxi), James Rebhorn (Meet the Parents), Cristin Milioti (star of Broadway's Once), plus comedians Marc Maron, Kristen Schaal, Wyatt Cenac, Jesse Klein, Henry Phillips and David Wain.

The film opened at Kendall Square on Friday, August 31, and at the Coolidge Theater on Friday, September 7. Visit landmarktheaters.com and coolidge.org for more information.


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