Strangely, in spite of its long and storied history, the film doesn’t feel “adapted”; it seems organically cinematic, with Birbiglia’s twisty storytelling style (he has a tendency to tell stories that start, pause, drill down to another story, pause, drill down again, and so on, before working his way back up) transforming into a non-linear construction reminiscent — in the best possible way — of Annie Hall, another comic-turned-filmmaker’s breakthrough picture. Four screenwriters are credited (Birbiglia, his brother Joe, his stage director Seth Barrish, and Ira Glass), but it doesn’t have the patchwork feel of a screenplay with that many fingerprints. “That’s because those guys didn’t do anything,” Birbiglia jokes. “You heard it here!”
Though Sleepwalk with Me has those echoes of Allen’s films, it is also very much of a piece with the current movement in film, television, and stand-up towards comedy that is more raw and autobiographical (and often painful) in nature. On this point, Birbiglia is reflective. “I’d like to think that we’re part of a comedy movement right now that’s moving away from observational comedy and into something that’s more personal and real. It’s what I prefer because I feel like it has more heart to it. It’s got more teeth.
“And I feel like in some ways it’s a response to the Seinfeld-ian era of comedy, which was observational to a point of brilliance. I mean, Seinfeld did it so well, and there were so many mimeographs of that style, and then at a certain point, those mimeographs became so boring. And it was just like, not only do you see it in stand-up comedy, you see it in TV commercials. I think that’s kind of the ultimate way that you know when something’s done: if you see it in a TV commercial, it’s over. I feel like observational comedy’s a little bit over right now.” For him, “it’s actually more difficult to just tell your story, and tell it honestly, and admit that you’re wrong about things in a way that’s entertaining. Because chances are, the first two drafts of that aren’t entertaining, and that’s definitely the case with this story.”
Sleepwalk with Me is screening this week at the South by Southwest Film Festival. It was recently picked up for theatrical distribution by IFC Films.