Alan Berliner’s documentary Wide Awake charms from its opening scene, which finds the filmmaker-narrator beginning to record a portentous anecdote about jet lag, then interrupting himself to tell an unseen producer, “Stop, stop, stop—I lost my place.” It’s a good gag, like Woody Allen in Manhattan revising the opening of his novel in midsentence. And it’s the perfect start for this personal yet informative documentary about insomnia, which finds the ruminative Berliner, who suffers in sunlight and thrives at night, wondering if the phrase human error is a euphemism for what happens when a person doesn’t get enough sleep—and whether it might explain everything from boneheaded political decisions to the outcome of the World Series.
Berliner is the director of four other documentaries, all of which have a strong first-person aspect (the house format of HBO and Cinemax documentaries). This one is loose and intimate even by his standards: There’s time-lapse footage of the director tossing and turning in bed, and a sequence in which he gives the viewer a tour of his studio while jacked on caffeine. It has the requisite number of PBS-style science nuggets—including quotes from researchers into sleep disorders—but for the most part, Wide Awake is a charming one-man show that starts out as a confession from a guy whose body rhythms are out of sync with the waking world, then becomes a celebration of that selfsame fact. — Matt Zoller Seitz