Wide Awake

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8 p.m., Wednesday, May 23
HBO


It's entirely too obvious to rail about having to fight the urge to nod off during a documentary film about insomnia, but what's true is true.

Film essayist Alan Berliner's ("Nobody's Business") gratingly personal examination of his lifelong battle with sleeplessness is a bit too cute and self-indulgent to be taken seriously; 80 minutes of increasingly annoying admissions and images that doesn't really tell us anything apart from the fact that not sleeping really sucks. Mind you, Berliner has managed to lead a satisfying and productive life in spite of this, boasting an attractive and supportive wife, a new baby and a successful cinematic career as he approaches 50.

But he maintains in something of a whiny refrain that whatever he has accomplished stands as a triumph over his chronic fatigue, and the point itself is no doubt very much relatable to anyone forced to live with the curse of a mind that refuses to shut off at night. In that sense, "Wide Awake" is worth a look.

Berliner -- credited as the film's writer, producer, director and editor as well as its star -- is adept at filling his creation with all variety of entertaining aural and visual enhancement to illuminate the issue, packing the frame with vintage black-and-white clips, home movies and chats with his mother and sister that brings the project a charmingly camp feel.

But this essentially remains a single lengthy, exasperated rant spotlighting the filmmaker's favorite obsession, replete with metaphors galore (my favorite being Berliner's comparison of his condition to the idea that "if you boil a frog slowly, the frog doesn't know anything's wrong").

We're treated to the spectacle of our insomnia-crazed hero drinking coffee for the first time in 31 years and ruminating over the fact that perhaps his problem can be traced to his parents having kept him awake with their arguments late at night during childhood. My guess is it has more to do with his anal-retentive, control-freakish nature as a grown-up. I'm not sure that making a movie about it is going help Berliner sleep, but it turns out to be an ironically potent sedative for us.
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