HOME |  CULT MOVIES | COMPETITIONS | ADVERTISE |  CONTACT US |  ABOUT US
 
 
Newest Reviews
Avengers: Endgame
Vanishing Act
Critters Attack!
Prison on Fire
Dragged Across Concrete
Do the Right Thing
Hellboy
Pond Life
Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, The
Third Wife, The
Shazam!
Follow Me
Leto
Fugitive Girls
Missing Link
Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, The
Pet Sematary
Oh... Rosalinda!!
Dumbo
Kaleidoscope
Night Is Short, Walk On Girl
Knight of Shadows: Between Yin and Yang, The
Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich
Klute
Meow
Killer Crocodile
Nutcracker Prince, The
Secret World of Og, The
Benjamin
Fifth Cord, The
Man Could Get Killed, A
Cyborg 009: Kaiju War
Heavy Trip
Nightmare Weekend
Blue Ice
Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday, The
Incident, The
Hell's Angels
Heaven and Earth
Flatliners
   
 
Newest Articles
Flight of the Navigator and the 80s Futurekids
Trains and Training: The British Transport Films Collection Volume 13 on DVD
Holiday from Hell: In Bruges on Blu-ray
The Comedy Stylings of Kurt Russell: Used Cars and Captain Ron
Robot Rocked: The Avengers Cybernauts Trilogy on Blu-ray
Hammer's Bloodthirsty Bad Girls 1970: Lust for a Vampire and Countess Dracula
Hammer to Fall: Kiss Me Deadly on Blu-ray
Home of the Grave: The House That Dripped Blood and Asylum on Blu-ray
Wondrous Women: Supergirl vs Captain Marvel
Things Have Changed: Films You'd Be Insane to Make Now
The Hole in the Ground: Director Lee Cronin Interview
She's Missing: Director Alexandra McGuinness Interview
Woo's the Boss: Last Hurrah for Chivalry & Hand of Death on Blu-ray
Get Ahead in Showbiz: Expresso Bongo and It's All Happening
Outer Space and Outta Sight: Gonks Go Beat on Blu-ray
   
 
  American Splendor Everyday PeopleBuy this film here.
Year: 2003
Director: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Stars: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Harvey Pekar, Judah Friedlander, James Urbaniak, Earl Billings, Joyce Brabner, James McCaffrey, Madylin Sweeten, Toby Radloff, Donal Logue, Molly Shannon
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Documentary
Rating:  7 (from 3 votes)
Review: Comic books come in all shapes and sizes, but it's really only the superhero variety that end up on the big screen; for every Ghost World there's a dozen Daredevils or X-Men. American Splendor goes a little way towards redressing the balance, and delivers a hero we can all identify with – Harvey Pekar.

Pekar was a jazz-and-comic book-obsessed misanthrope from Cleveland, Ohio who befriended Robert Crumb in the early sixties, before Crumb had made his name as a pioneer of subversive comic art. As Crumb became more and more famous, the pair stayed in touch and inspired by his friend's success, Pekar decided he too had something to offer the world of comics – his own tedious life. Pekar couldn't draw, but with Crumb – and then other artists – agreeing to illustrate his friend's hilariously mundane real-life tales of working as a hospital file clerk, Pekar's American Splendor books quickly became an underground comic success.

Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's adaptation of Pekar's stories (and hence Pekar's own life) is one of the most unusual, inventive biopics you're likely to see. The directors remain true to the comic's central concept – namely, this is not fiction but real life in all its often ugly glory – and turn in a film that is part indie comedy-drama, and part documentary. Paul Giamatti plays Pekar in the story of his rise from grouchy nobody to grouchy cult figure, but the film is narrated by Pekar himself and we often cut back to the man – now 65 – for a series of candid interviews. In addition, actual frames from his comics are used to advance the narrative, thought bubbles sometimes appear above characters' heads and scenes are introduced with onscreen comic book writing.

It's fascinating comparing the real man to the screen version, and although Giamatti's impersonation seems exaggerated, he captures something in Pekar's slumped frame, sneering expression and ragged, strangely pitched voice that makes for a compelling performance. By having Harvey himself feature so heavily, Berman and Pulcini risk reducing the audience's empathy with the version actually telling the story (especially when Pekar makes voiceover comments like "Here's me. Or the guy playing me. He looks nothing like me, but whatever"), but it is to Giamatti's credit that he actually turns his character into a sympathetic, bizarrely loveable one.

The supporting cast is equally strong. Hope Davis plays Joyce Brabner, the comic book fan that Harvey makes his third wife, and if anything, Joyce is even more cynical and pessimistic than Harvey. The scene in which they go on their first 'date' is deliciously awkward, starting with a row in a restaurant and ending with Joyce vomiting back at Pekar's apartment before announcing that they should skip courtship and just get married. Elsewhere, the nearest person that Harvey has to a friend – workmate and über-nerd Toby Radloff – is played by Judah Friedlander; it seems that Friedlander is performing a grotesquely over-the-top caricature, until the real Toby steps into the frame and – godammit – the guy really is like that. The moment in which Toby explains to Harvey why that long-forgotten movie 'classic' Revenge of the Nerds has changed his life is a definite highlight.

Pekar's profile hit an all-time high in the mid-eighties, when he became a regular guest on David Letterman's talkshow. Harvey knew Letterman only had him on because the audience lapped up his uncompromising grouchiness, but it both allowed him to plug his comics and gave him a welcome break from the filing job that he continued to do, and unsurprisingly, Berman and Pulcini mix up genuine Letterman footage with reconstructions. But is the film's final section that brings real-life harshly into frame.

In 1990, Pekar was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer – his already gloomy outlook on life quickly became terminal despair and having documented his strange life for over a decade in his comics, for the first time Harvey found himself unable to write. So Joyce came to his rescue, employing an artist friend to live with them and draw every stage of Harvey's treatment – the resulting graphic novel, Our Cancer Year – was an acclaimed testament to the couple's ultimately successful struggle against the disease. Giamatti portrays both Harvey's uncomprehending anger and heartbreaking resignation to his perceived fate, and these final scenes are moving without ever being sentimental, Hollywood sentimentality being the one thing Pekar spent a lifetime avoiding.

American Splendor is a richly textured, very human picture, and it is ironic that a man who has dedicated his life to celebrating the everyday should be immortalised on film in such a unique manner. Perhaps a straight-forward dramatic approach might have been more in keeping with the comic itself, but although he'd undoubtedly deny it, Harvey Pekar's life has been – and with the release of this film continues to be – something extraordinary.
Reviewer: Daniel Auty

 

This review has been viewed 7148 time(s).

As a member you could Rate this film

 

Shari Springer Berman  (1964 - )

American director who has worked with Robert Pulcini on a series of documentaries, including Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's, The Young and the Dead and the forthcoming Wanderlust. Also directed American Splendor, the acclaimed biopic of comic icon Harvey Pekar and an adaptation of bestselling expose The Nanny Diaries.

Robert Pulcini  (1964 - )

American director who has worked with Shari Springer Berman on a series of documentaries, including Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's, The Young and the Dead and the forthcoming Wanderlust. Also directed American Splendor, the acclaimed biopic of comic icon Harvey Pekar and an adaptation of bestselling expose The Nanny Diaries.

 
Review Comments (0)


Untitled 1

Login
  Username:
 
  Password:
 
   
 
Forgotten your details? Enter email address in Username box and click Reminder. Your details will be emailed to you.
   

Latest Poll
Which star do you think makes the best coffee?
Emma Stone
Anna Kendrick
Michelle Rodriguez
Sir Patrick Stewart
   
 
   

Recent Visitors
Graeme Clark
Andrew Pragasam
  Rachel Franke
Paul Shrimpton
  Desbris M
Enoch Sneed
  Derrick Smith
Darren Jones
   

 

Last Updated: