American Splendor

Rated: R
Stars: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Harvey Pekar, Shari Springer Berman, Earl Billings, James Urbaniak
Directors: Shari Berman, Bob Pulcini
Screenwriters: Shari Berman, Bob Pulcini

Paul Giamatti is the perfect schlump to play the part of a real life schlump – that of Harvey Pekar, a Cleveland Hospital file clerk who achieved a bit of fame after developing and writing a comic book about himself called American Splendor. It’s the mundane life and times of a dynamically expressive and brutally honest, gloomy, obstinate and miserable but likable slob who loves jazz and collects junk.

His motto is that “Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.” and his observations about real people and their troubles prove particularly astute. Who among us has never chosen the wrong check out line at the supermarket? Harvey humorously agonizes over such things and more in this offbeat, highly original and well constructed film.

American Splendor, the movie, was the Grand Jury Prize winner at the Sundance Film Festival. The film’s imaginative use of comic book elements, frames and graphics, as well as animation, special effects, interviews and documentary footage of the real Harvey Pekar, his wife Joyce Brabner (played in the film by Hope Davis) and co-workers, especially that of the unusual Toby Radloff (Judah Friedlander), a borderline autistic, and his appearances as a guest on David Letterman’s talk show add to the splendor. It also features narration by Pekar and artwork by friends Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak) Drew Friedman and Jim Woodring.

Lotta says: This is an odd concoction that really works. The real Pekar is a blast and Giamatti captures every nuance of his character. Hope Davis is especially keen as his wife Joyce, a complex and formidable character in her own right.

Release Date: August 15, 2003 for NY, LA, Cleveland; limited elsewhere – catch it on video when available.

Reviewed: August 9, 2003