Wednesday, September 5, 2012
This Other American Life
Produced by Ira Glass
Directed by Mike Birbiglia and Seth Barrish
Featuring Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane
Four Scoops of Bosco
Reviewed by Allen Bacon, The Daily Bosco
Given the pedigree of Sleepwalk With Me, one would think this movie should have been a slam-dunk winner at the box office and easily live up to the hype that it has received from numerous critics.
Not so fast. It is never that easy.
This movie produced by This American Life's Ira Glass and written, directed and starring frequent TAL contributor and standup comic Mike Birbiglia has all the ingredients that should have made this movie a must-see.
But the problem here is the same issue that has confronted movies created from skits from television shows like Saturday Night Live. Sure, the Coneheads was a popular five minute skit each week on SNL. Feature length movie Coneheads...not so much.
A lot of ideas should just stay five minute skits.
What makes This American Life. the radio show, and the subsequent Showtime Television series so successful and interesting is that it is built around one central theme each week in a one hour format and broken up into a series of 15-20 minute stories based on that theme.
That simple device keeps you mentally in the show as it changes up during the course of the hour, but always sticks to one subject. The listener is rewarded at the end because there is a purpose to where each of the stories are going.
Clocking in at 80 minutes, Sleepwalk With Me is probably 20 minutes longer than it needs to be.
Unlike This American Life, you wonder what this film is about. Is it about relationships? Is it about Sleepwalking? Is it about breaking into comedy? Is it about the institution of marriage or is it all some how interrelated? It's never that clear.
Throw in the fact that Birbiglia seems to be trying very hard to be the second coming of Woody Allen and make the next Annie Hall.
Look at the parallels: The film is shot in New York, Birbiglia breaks the third wall a lot talking to the audience, and there are those flashback vignettes taking us back to the beginning of the relationship.
I do have to say that, as a writer of the funny one-liner, Birbiglia has that mastered...but writing a whole story with a point somehow escapes him here.
A great soundtrack with fresh music, a warm feel to the film making, and nice performances by Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) as the love interest and Carol Kane (Taxi) as the wacky mom salvage the film to a certain extent.
One suggestion. If you really want to see (or hear) the genius of Mike Birbiglia and Ira Glass....and these guys are real masters at the written and spoken word.... all one has to do is tune into their radio program each weekend.