American Splendor Review

“In The End, American Splendor Proves That "ordinary Life Is Pretty Interesting." ”

September 22nd, 2003

I had decided, rather rashly, at about 8 in the morning that I would like to catch the screening of AMERICAN SPLENDOR at 10am. All I know is that somehow at 8am Harvey Pekar seemed much more appealing that I ever thought possible. For some strange reason, I was excited to see this movie.

If I'm going to wake up early for a 10am screening, this better be worth it. Everyone knows that as a brilliant writer I don't have to wake up until 2pm at the earliest. But since I was up and running about, aside from a comfortable seat at the theatre, I was expecting an enchanting launch towards another beautiful day with this movie. I wanted something fresh, witty and sentimental. I needed something to reassure my faith in filmmakers across the universe. I had more hope gathered up for this little film at 10am in the morning than most people have in a lifetime. I wanted magic.

Meet Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti), a hospital file clerk, cynical observer of life's strange moments and comic book writer. Pekar writes American Splendor, a comic book about his everyday life. Harvey's life resembles his house: It's messy. But besides being an obsessive-compulsive collector, lousy housekeeper and a pessimistic creature, Pekar is a regular Joe. American Splendor is his story.

I have been quite disenchanted by most recent releases and this film is like a breath of fresh air. There are no car explosions or fancy stunts in American Splendor, just a very humane tale to keep our attention rolling. Although American Splendor is in some ways based on the comic book, there are no superheroes in sight. Instead the film follows an ordinary man with a compulsive, pessimistic, witty, and slightly eccentric air about him.

The way that co-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini present the film's narrative is also quite inventive. The real Harvey Pekar provides the voiceover and he appears in many scenes along with some of the other characters that the film is based on. Those scenes are mainly filmed as documentary-style interviews. There is a really striking balance between this being a feature film and a documentary and this approach makes the film much more interesting to watch. The self-commentary by Pekar obscures our perception of the real Harvey, the comic book character and actor Paul Giamatti's portrayal. There is also a fairly memorable scene where a cartoon version of Harvey interacts with the live-action Harvey with a, shall we say, animated effect.

The performances in this movie give the backbone to the narrative. Harvey Pekar is just so exceptionally well suited to be a comic-book character, with his amazing wit and charisma. And Paul Giamatti has no trouble sinking into his shoes. Hope Davis fares almost as well as Giamatti, capturing Joyce Brabner's complexity and spirit. We feel for these characters.

There is very little I could say to put down this film. There were some confusing moments within the narrative and the scenes weren't always flowing as smoothly as they could have been, but nothing that would serve as a major turn off. Why can't they make more films like this? This was certainly worth waking up for. And considering the oh-so "fascinating" films out there in theatres right now, this one is at least worth paying the admission price for.

In the end, American Splendor proves that "ordinary Life is pretty interesting." Now go see it.

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