'American Splendor' is a marvelous and engaging biographical film about the life of the talented underground comics writer, Harvey Pekar. It is filled with dry comedy and brilliant humor, which arises from little situations.
The film deservedly won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, and has gotten unanimous advanced critical acclaim.
The movie chronicles most of the major events in Pekar's life including his break into the comic industry, his marriage, and his painful bout with cancer.
Many critics have been raving about ' Seabiscuit,' but 'American Splendor' is more likely to be remembered as the great American film of 2003. It takes far more chances and it avoids 'Seabiscuit's" cloying sentimentality.
The directing team of Shari Springer and Robert Pulcini are a married couple that used to do documentaries. The film has some documentary type elements.
At some points, the real Harvey Pekar even appears on-screen to play himself and comments on his actions. This allows us to compare the real Pekar to Paul Giamatti. In this way the audience is able to see how masterfully Giamatti captures some of Pekar's mannerisms.
When the film starts, Harvey Pekar is a grumpy and anonymous file clerk who is mostly disrespected by everyone. His first wife divorces him after she gets a doctorate because he isn't upwardly mobile enough for her tastes. He loses his voice so he can't even plead with his wife to stay.
He spends most of his time collecting jazz records, writing stories, and hanging out with his friend, the underground comic legend, Robert Crumb. He's a lot like the collector character in 'Ghostworld.'
Pekar gives one of his stories to Crumb who asks if he can illustrate it.
He ends up starting his own strip called 'American Splendor,' and it becomes a sensation. He bases many of events and dialogue on his real life.
One day Pekar gets a letter from an admiring female fan and Pekar invites her to come visit him. The two hit it off and marry quickly. She helps him get through cancer and the complications that come with fame.
Some of the best moments occur when the camera freeze-frames a special event in Harvey's life and the shot is transformed into a comic panel. This stylistic technique was also used in 'Tank Girl' , but it is used to much better effect here.
The story may not sound very interesting, but the film is an inspiring slice of life that makes the mundane into high drama. Pekar makes an excellent if unlikely everyman hero. If Pekar could become a celebrity than anyone can.
'American Splendor' is one of the most memorable and idiosyncratic American films of the year. Look for it to top many of the of the year-end movie critic's lists. Directed by Shari Springer and Robert Pulcini, Rated R for language, 100minutes Paul Giamatti Harvey Pekar Hope Davis Joyce Harvey Pekar as himself **** (four stars)
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