American Splendor

American Splendor


Reviewed by: David Stanners

Tipped to be the best US film of the year, American Splendor treads the underpath of a working class anti-hero looking to make something of his dead-end existence.

Harvey Pekar may, or may not, be a household name in America. Certainly, he is not in the UK. Anyway, American Spendor is his story. It charts the rise of a lazy, cynical, small time character, with a life on the downslide. Tired of urban decay, fragmented relationships, sore throats and a job as a filing clerk, he decides to make something out of his unrequited toil. Comics are his choice of expression and slowly he begins to record his daily banalities in caption form. Inspired by his illustrator friend, Robert Crumb, (James Urbaniak) the comic book, American Splendor, is born.

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Featuring personal details in a comic could easily slide into solipsistic nonsense. Not so with Pekar. Self deprecating and brutally honest in style, he gives voice to an angry and socially paranoid Cleveland community, who identify closely with his life.

Spreading like wild fire amongst comic aficionados, Pekar's comic soon brings him into contact with his future wife, Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis), a self-diagnosed anaemic, depressive and comic book seller from across the state. Beginning under no false pretences, his first words to her are, "I've had a vasectomy. Just thought I'd let you know from the start." Devoid of social skills and eternally depressing, Pekar's voice speaks for nerds, social inadequates and all else on the margins of society.

Maintaining his day job as fuel for his material, he makes friends with Toby, a nerd caricature and borderline autistic. When they go to see Revenge Of The Nerds together, Pekar lambastes its unrealistic notions. Steeped in morbid reality, it is this that protects Pekar from selling out. When he becomes bigger, he is invited to The Letterman Show in New York. Used as the butt of jokes by Letterman for mainstream America, Pekar is able to provide the subversive counter punches that sting the burgeoning corporate culture of the Eighties.

American Splendor is cleverly constructed by directors Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman. Combining real life footage and interviews with Harvey Pekar, his wife and other characters portrayed, it's clear Paul Giamatti has done justice to the real man. Avoiding sanitization, the full tableau of Pekar's sallow, but honest, lifestyle pervades throughout.

Beneath the surface, this is a film about the fringes of society, juxtaposed with the possibility of the American Dream. Its unsentimental and firm anchoring of this undercurrent provides those suffering from urban paranoia with the greatest gift of all: hope.

Reviewed on: 23 Aug 2003
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True story about misfit who creates a popular comic series based on his own life.
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Read more American Splendor reviews:

Keith Hennessey Brown *****

Director: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini

Writer: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini, Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, James Urbaniak, Judah Friedlander, Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner, Toby Radlof

Year: 2002

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


EIFF 2003

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