Mike Birgbiglia makes big-screen bow as director of Sleepwalk With Me; any semblance of entertainment is merely an Apparition in

by Mark Burger

Comedian Mike Birbiglia has done a laudable job of opening up his autobiographical one-man off-Broadway show Sleepwalk With Me , which opens Friday and offers a unique insight into Birbiglia’s offbeat outlook.

In the film, which he also co-wrote, co-produced and directed (making his feature debut in all three capacities), Birbiglia plays Matt Pandamiglia, a would-be stand-up comic undergoing various degrees of professional and personal chaos in his life. He expresses his concerns directly to the camera, taking the audience into his confidence. Not only is Matt trying to make a definitive (as in mar- ital) commitment to his long-term (as in eight years) girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose), he’s desperately trying to hone his act, which tends to leave audiences baffled and bored as opposed to laughing. Some of the early stand-up sequences are cringingly embarrassing but believable.

Matt is also afflicted by an inexplicable sleep disorder in which he physically reacts to his dreams and nightmares, perhaps a manifestation of his sublimated fears and neuroses. There’s a lot going on in Matt’s head, and even he’s not sure how to deal with it.

James Rebhorn and Carol Kane are good company as Matt’s long-married, constantly-bickering parents — is it any wonder that he’s neurotic? — who obliviously apply pressure on him to settle down, and Sondra James is a hoot as a part-time, low-rent talent agent who takes Matt on as a client simply to play gigs that other (i.e. better) comedians turn down out of hand.

Perhaps best of all, Birgbiglia sidesteps the self-indulgence inherent in adapting a one-man show to the screen by allowing his co-stars, especially the winning Ambrose, a lot of room in which to maneuver. Sleepwalk With Me was a one-man show, but it’s not a one-man movie — although it’s frequently a funny and telling one.

Writer/director Todd Lincoln’s debut feature, The Apparition , which will likely be an apparition at local theaters by this weekend, is a case of “paranormal stupidity” — a film of few shocks and almost entirely devoid of surprise.

Ashley Greene and Sebastian Sten play the young couple in harm’s — and haunt’s — way soon after moving into their new house. Furniture moves by itself, security cameras inexplicably self-destruct, ectoplasmic crust forms on the floor and ceiling, and the neighbor’s dog dies soon after wandering into their laundry room. Clearly, these events are otherworldly, but they’re not of much interest, even for the most undiscriminating, die-hard horror fan.

So… who you gonna call? In this case, it’s not the Ghostbusters but Tom Felton (of the Harry Potter films) as Sten’s old college chum and parapsychology wiz, who has apparently succeeded (if you can call it that) in bringing a malevolent spirit “from the other side” into our world. This does not bode well.

If nothing else, and there isn’t much else, lovely Greene gets more to do more here than as Alice Cullen in the Twilight films — as opposed to Kristen Stewart, who always has too much to do in the Twilight films — and she looks great doing it. (Yes, there’s the obligatory shower sequence, for those who care.)

It all ends badly for everyone, including the audience.

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