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Movie Review: 'Sleepwalk With Me'

Mike Birbiglia's satisfying comedy got us dreaming about other sleep-themed flicks

Director: Mike Birbiglia
Rating Unrated. Running Time: ‎90 minutes
Stars: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, James Rebhorn, Carole Kane

Just as standup comic Mike Birbiglia was breaking into the business, he developed a considerable problem: a sleep disorder that caused him to not simply sleepwalk, but to physically act out his dreams. So if Birbiglia was dreaming of fighting a jackal, he ran around his apartment battling an invisible animal. It was a condition that veered from the quirky to the curious to the deadly, depending on the ferocity of the nightmare.

See also: Bill's Movies for Grownups radio spot about this film includes an interview with Carol Kane.

This unusual affliction accounts for most of the conflict in Sleepwalk With Me, a sweet film based on Birbiglia's one-man off-Broadway show and, before that, his standup routine, which incorporated many of the events portrayed here. Populated by likeable characters — virtually all of whom are innocent bystanders — Sleepwalk With Me features James Rebhorn as Birbiglia's dour-but-devoted dad and Carole Kane as his always-so-happy-everyone's-doing-fine-no-matter-what mom. Birbiliglia, who cowrote and directed the film, is an appealing narrator, occasionally turning to the camera to clarify what's going on.

In spite of its highly unusual premise, Sleepwalk With Me is a good-natured walk on the mild side, as fondly remembered as a pleasant dream.

Sleepwalk With Me got me thinking about other movies where dreams play a pivotal role. Here are some of my favorites:

Inception (2010) I sure hope Christopher Nolan stops making Batman and Superman reboots long enough to get back to creating mind-buzzing movies like this one. The film's Russian nesting doll of a story involves corporate mercenaries who insert themselves into people's dreams, then into the dreams within their dreams, and so on. Not only do the film's internal puzzles send your mind reeling; Inception also has the best final shot of any movie since Citizen Kane.

The Science of Sleep (2006) After his success with Jim Carrey's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, French director Michel Gondry followed up with this ethereal tale of a young man (Gael Garcia Bernal) who has trouble discerning his waking state from his dream life. Eschewing digital special effects, Gondry creates a whimsical, low-tech world where the visual wonders never cease, no matter what your REM cycle.

Brazil (1985) In Terry Gilliam's masterpiece, nebbish Jonathan Pryce is happiest in his dreams, where he sprouts wings and pursues the woman he loves from afar. Unfortunately, the real world — a dystopian retro-future where inefficient bureaucracy has become entrenched as the perpetual norm — is conspiring to take even his dreams away.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) It devolved into a tediously formulaic slasher series, but Wes Craven's original film plugs directly into primal fears about what happens when we go to sleep. Freddy Krueger, a child killer executed by a posse of parents, comes back to haunt the dreams of their children and murder them in a Grand Guignol of grotesqueries. Robert Englund made a career playing the wisecracking monster. They say he's actually a very sweet guy.

Spellbound (1945) A dream plays a pivotal role in Alfred Hitchcock's tale of murder, amnesia and mental illness. Accused of a murder he might have committed, but can't remember, an impossibly young Gregory Peck recalls a bizarre dream, rich in apparent symbolism. To present the dream on screen, Hitch turned to painter Salvador Dali, who obliged with a truly whacked-out vision that married film with the surreal in a way seldom matched before or since. You'll be forgiven if you stop the DVD to repeat that dream sequence more than once.

You may also like: Is Paul Dano dreaming in Ruby Sparks? How about Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris?