American Splendor (2003) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language
Running Time: 99 min.
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner, Earl Billings, Judah Friedlander, James Urbaniak, Madylin Sweeten
Director: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Screenplay: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Review published September 22, 2003
American Splendor is a movie unlike any other, taken from the pages of Harvey Pekar's autobiographical underground comic book of the same name. The husband/wife team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (The Nanny Diaries, Girl Most Likely) do a semi-documentary comic drama, and the results make for one of the most refreshing and amusing comedies of the year. Essentially, the movie re-enacts certain moments in Pekar's life, intercut with a real interview with Pekar, including some television appearances he was famous for on "Late Night with David Letterman".
File clerk by day, comic writer by night, Pekar's comics are full of characters and observations he makes during his everyday life, and the movie captures the essence of these comics perfectly. Just as Pekar is the narrator of his comics, as well as a character, so is he in this film, although Paul Giamatti (Planet of the Apes, Big Momma's House) plays Pekar for the film's dramatic elements, and quite well, I might add.
When the film is at its funniest is showing the absurdities of life through the eyes of a consummate cynic, richly giving us a character study of a man not too different from many others you'd find doing the same job in the same town all across the country. Where Pekar is different is in his introspection on his life, never really candy-coating it or embellishing it with lies just for some easy sales. It is the very trivialities of life that readers have come to expect and love in his work, noticing the things we may all have thought of, but didn't know others were out there who thought the same things we did.
Pekar literally injects himself into his work, and the film captures that spirit in detail, merging Pekar's reality, with his comic, and of course, this movie. There is no divorcing one from the other -- they are all extensions of the same person - mind, body and soul.
You don't have to be a fan of the comic to enjoy this movie, as the creators do a very fine job of inclusion for those who aren't well-versed in American Splendor's universe of characters. For those who love the underground comics scene, especially those who like movies about alternative comics (Crumb and Ghost World come immediately to mind,) American Splendor is as entertaining and interesting a movie you'll find.
©2003 Vince Leo