Sleepwalk With Me:
Anyone familiar with comedian Mike Birbiglia’s work has heard this story by now, either in his stand-up, his one-man theatre show, or his contributions to This American Life. However, in Sleepwalk With Me, Birbiglia’s directorial debut in film, his story has new life breathed into it, told through a series of re-enactments and direct-to-camera confessions. His relationship and his ensuing neuroses get plenty of (very amusing) air time, yet I was left wanting in regards to the stand-up comedy enlightenment he went through as a result– plenty of comics come in and talk the artform for a moment or two, and then vanish. I found myself full of questions: how does a comic doing personal material deal with the people his comedy is about? How does one balance the success of the road with the struggles of intimacy? This movie presents this issues but rarely diverges from the path: he’s scared of marriage and he sleepwalks, period. It’s funny but remains slight. However, it does hint at a potential career for Birbiglia in film as the Diet Coke Woody Allen… not an insult.
The Imposter, a documentary about a French con artist, is one of those films worth seeing solely because if you hear the story from someone, you won’t believe it. Deftly executed, full of tense re-enactments, long lingering camera shots on suspicious faces, and twists that kept me guessing, it’s prime entertainment with a dash of the disturbing. As a tease to those who felt less interested upon seeing the words “French” and “documentary” in the same sentence: a young European man pretends to be the missing child of a Texas family, who takes him in… despite his different eye color… and hair color… and obvious advancement of age… and permanent French accent. You’ll find yourself wondering whether this admittedly charming man was that skilled an artist or simply the benefactor of insane luck. The turn to the dark side is both what blows your mind and makes it slightly harder to love. Just when you find someone likable, the film will yank the rug from under you and you’ll question their motives. The documentaries that really stick either stay dark or stay charming. Still, even if it’s not a classic, the final moments of The Imposter were among the most suspenseful of the year.
Bernie (now on DVD):
Another true tale about the power of Texan denial, Bernie is a dark comedy given real weight by documentary-style interviews with real locals sprinkled into the mix. Richard Linklater, who knows a thing or two about Texan towns (Dazed and Confused, Slacker, subUrbia), lets the community tell the story for him of a funeral director who romances an elderly woman and murders her. It seems at first like a simple comedic character study, with Jack Black front and center. Linklater never plays for the outright laugh, devoted to full-blown earnestness. This allows his world to build and Bernie to gently fall at the center of it, not only making the comedy more potent, but giving the film something to say. Can murder be considered generous? The town of Carthage certainly adores Bernie even after he kills someone, and they all believe he’ll go to heaven. Is this hypocrisy or does it perhaps reveal something within the human condition, the importance of kindness, the cleansing power of being thoughtful? Linklater never judges nor forgives Bernie, merely presenting him as a humorously odd little man. Nor does he judge or forgive the town for embracing their murderous funeral director– this balancing act between mockery and understanding is tremendously difficult, and Linklater sticks the landing. It helps that Jack Black gives, for the second time under Linklater (School of Rock), the performance of his career. He’s giving and honest with just the right amount of enigma behind the eyes. You won’t know what to make of him, but you’ll be captivated by what he does.