Friday, May 24, 2013
Kennebec Journal Staff
Mike and Seth Barrish then turned his act and his life into a new film called "Sleepwalk With Me," now playing at Waterville's Railroad Square Cinema.
Mike, as his screen persona, Matt, has long suffered from some sort of REM sleep disorder that takes him out of bed and forces him to act out his dreams.
In "Sleepwalk," Mike uses his ailment as a metaphor for his life. As Mike really did, Matt tends bar and takes out trash at a low-level comedy club somewhere in Manhattan. His duties consist of stuffing trash bags with garbage while sneaking peeks at the comics on stage, and mopping up vomit on the bathroom floors.
Our hero is a sad sack, one note loser who is trying to figure out who he is. He is lucky because he has Abby, (a welcome Lauren Ambrose) a cheerful, optimistic thirty-something who makes a good living running a wellness class that employs yoga-like techniques and deep breathing. Yes.
There must be something usable about Matt, because Abby's been living with him for eight years, or maybe she's just one of those selfless souls sent to earth to rescue dreebs like this.
The casting here goes awry. Ambrose gives us a lively, buoyant young woman who has all the material to attract better material in a mate. What's needed is a pet-shop owner in Raybans and home-knitted sweaters for our cute, whiny Matt.
Actually, Kristens Schaal who plays Hazel on "30 Rock," and a nerdy student emcee in this film, would have been perfect in the part and made it a whole different movie. Schaal has a wonderful off-beat face and comedic gifts. Bet on seeing her a lot.
The movie starts slowly on this track, as Matt mopes along in a cloud of confusion, and then picks up some energy when he lucks in with a third-rate comic's agent, an hilarious Sondra James, who reminds us of Joey's agent on the late "Friends" show.
James plays a woman in her late 60s who, by virtue of a distracted God, keeps bottom-rung stand-up comics from falling off the end of the earth. She uses an old dial phone, cigarettes and probably a drawer full of booze to keep the day from drowning her. I give her an early Golden Globe for effort.
Out of pity, she reluctantly adds him to her long list of losers, and sends him on that endless dreary one-night-stand road that all comics know and dread.
Then, at one hilarious stop, Matt plays a set at a college evening to eight people under house lights. Backstage here, he confesses to another older comic, "I'm reluctant to get married until I'm sure nothing better is going to happen in my life." It's a funny line, and when, with the comic's advice, he starts to use this attitude in his act, success rears its candy-colored sweet-smelling head while love slips away.
"Sleepwalk With Me," a slight slice of sweetness and occasional comic hot spots, boasts a strong supporting cast of pros that keep it from the DVD bin.
The great James Rebhorn plays Matt's serious-but-caring doctor father who loves his bumbling son and tries to get him some professional help, but is convinced he will wind up back home living in the basement.
The blessing here, the cherry and whipped cream on this bagel, is the great, fabulous Carol Kane as Matt's sweet, ever hopeful mother. Kane is a legend and will always be famous for playing Simka Dahblitz on "Taxi." If you don't know her, you're still watching "Sesame Street." Kane saves every movie or television show she's ever been in, and she does it again.
It is happy to see Ambrose, back from her smash performances in New York's "Shakespeare in the Park," returning to films. Ambrose still looks like the little sister from "Six Feet Under," and we love her.
Mike, with the strong help, I suspect, of his brother Joe, Ira Glass and Barrish, wrote the screenplay, and directed. Mike is yet again, one more of a disquieting new age of independent film male actors like Til Schweiger, Mark Duplass and Andy Samberg, who have ushered in a chorus of faceless, hapless and self-wounded leading boy-men who appeal to the mother in women. This, while at the same time, Hollywood is parading a menu of sexually and politically powerful women like Cate Blanchett, Rachel Weisz and Angelina Jolie? Hmmm..
Ultimately, "Sleepwalk With Me" fails to awaken the weariest of us.
J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor