With the 85th Academy Awards this evening, it may be time to think about a movie that may not be the "Best Picture" of the year but is definitely the most influential.
This past year has had some monstrously huge releases, from films like Argo and Zero Dark Thirty to The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. With a pedigree as such, 2012 will be known as a good year for cinema for years to come. However there is one small problem with the world of film this past year: we’ve seen that work before.
With the exception of Beasts of the Southern Wild and possibly Amour, all of the films nominated for Oscars are products of the current titans of film. The same names that always appear in awards ceremonies have appeared again: Spielberg, Affleck, Bigelow, Tarantino, Ang Lee, the list goes on and we know the names and, most likely, the outcomes. They make films that are grand sweeping technological and aesthetic masterpieces that wow critics and make billions of dollars. Then inevitably these same directors will make another magnum opus next year, and the year after that, and be nominated and win until they die; the same formulaic films, the same people and the same style of film. Here to mix up the equation is humble comedian Mike Birbiglia.
Mike Birbiglia is methodical, unconventional, far-reaching, insightful, creative, and a workhorse in a strange and almost eccentric way. He is Wes Anderson without the pretentiousness, Woody Allen without the neuroses, and he has the timing of Louis C.K. From the beginning of Mike Birbiglia’s career in stand-up it seems that he has always had a goal of making the perfect comic product. For Mike Birbiglia this means developing comic material and honing it on stage for years until he feels confident enough in his material to convert it to a one man off-Broadway show, and then came the book. Mike Birbiglia released the novelized version of Sleepwalk With Me in 2010 to rave reviews, and almost immediately pitched and sold the movie idea to IFC, with the help of Ira Glass and NPR’s “This American Life,” and began to create his vision.
Birbiglia’s biggest attribute throughout the film is the tone of the film which he carries with his narration and semi-regular breaking of the fourth wall. The pacing of Sleepwalk with Me is marvelous; and when combined with the tone that Birbiglia has set, the movie creates an almost unique viewing experience. As opposed to a big name blockbuster, Birbiglia takes you into his world and makes you a character there with him; you aren’t merely a viewer you are presented as Matt Pandamiglio’s (Mike Birbiglia’s character) friends and confidants. This cinematic and storytelling technique make Sleepwalk with Me just as engrossing as Argo or Zero Dark Thirty without relying on action to do so. Birbiglia may have unwittingly put himself at the forefront of a new cinematic movement with this unusual, and bordering on quirky, style of film. With an ambitious promotional tactic form a pseudo-feud with Director Joss Whedon, to having NPR and Birbiglia's own fans petition local theatres to host the film Birbiglia not only created a film, but carried it through all of it's steps.
Many indie films, despite their cult status, are never given the chance to repeat a success; however Sleepwalk with Me earned more than a million dollars in profit thanks to the promotions, and with IFC and producer Ira Glass (of This American Life) more Birbiglia work is soon to follow.
Birbiglia is not a slacker when it comes to films and takes an almost Woody Allen-esque approach to crafting his feature. From start to finish Birbiglia wrote, directed and starred in his film … about a small painful and hopeful fragment from his own life. Birbiglia’s semi-autobiographical work, about starting a career as a stand-up and having to deal with a relationship that is spiraling towards an unwanted marriage, his debilitating life-threatening sleepwalking disorder (hence the title) is unflinching at times and proves that he is not only able to create comedy based on the world around him; he is also able to share insights about himself to the world.
His film (co-starring Lauren Ambrose, Marc Maron, Carol Kane, and James Rebhorn) takes you into a small part of his life and allows you truly experience the emotions of a real person encountering real problems, and the only reason that his film works is because Mike Birbiglia is relating his own story to you. He isn’t reading someone else’s words or directing another person’s life story, he is taking you on a ride and it is magnificent and beautiful. He brings a personalized in depth touch that he brings to his projects, whether they be: film, novel, stand-up or Twitter (@birbigs). Birbiglia provides the human element that is lost in so many movies.
When you root for Matt Pandamiglio to succeed in Sleepwalk with Me, you aren't rooting for just a character, you've invested in Mike Birbiglia himself. Birbiglia may have inadvertently created a new wave of Do-It-Yourself movies that film watchers haven’t seen before and I, for one, am excited to see what he does next.