AMERICAN SPLENDOR

Posted: January 18, 2006 in Reviews Archive

DVD ARCHIVES REVIEW by BRIAN ROPER
for file 23 Magazine

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There are a lot of little things in everyday life that piss me off.

People who sit through green lights talking on their cell phones. Co-workers at my menial job who don’t flush the toilet when they go to the bathroom, don’t wash their hands, and then head for our break room and touch the vending machines, the microwave oven, and grab a handful of ice from the bag in the freezer. Ugh!

And the CRAP that passes for entertainment these days.

And also our Presidents’ ridiculous immigration policy.

I could go on but won’t. But the difference between Harvey Pekar and myself is I don’t document these things, write stories around them, and get famous artists like Robert Crumb to illustrate them.

To most of us, standing in line behind an old Jewish woman arguing with the checkout clerk about prices is an experience that is momentarily irritating, and then we write it off. To Harvey Pekar, this is an emotional crisis that can’t be dealt with on any rational level except to try and translate it to comic book panels.

Harvey Pekar has been writing about the trials and tribulations of working as a file clerk in a VA hospital (And aside from your local “animal shelter,? can you think of a more depressing place?) in Cleveland since1976, and has been a frequent guest on David Letterman’s show.

In this 2003 film, Harvey and his wife Joyce are portrayed by Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis, and also appear as themselves. Like FRIDA, another film everyone at Cannes and the Sundance Festival loved but nobody else saw, AMERICAN SPLENDOR features a weird mix of live action and animation, just to remind you this is based on a comic book.

Harvey took the liberty of making his co-workers at his job regular characters in his stories, and what characters they are, too. I always loved the sage-like Mr. Boats, and Toby should be a hero for computer geeks.

Paul Giamatti does a great job as Pekar. He has a great expressive face that can say a lot without one word. This certainly isn’t a feel-good movie; some people may find it too depressing to bear, especially the parts which deal with his battle with cancer.

Everything doesn’t get wrapped up in a pretty ribbon at the end, but real life certainly isn’t like that at all, either. In some strange way however, this is a very old-fashioned movie.

Parts of it will make you laugh and others will make you want to cry, and isn’t that what good movies are supposed to do? I recommend this heavily to anyone who liked CRUMB or GHOST WORLD. The DVD includes a really cool miniature comic book, and has commentary from Toby Radloff, Harvey, and his wife Joyce, Paul Giamatti, the director/screenwriting team of Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman and gee, did I leave anybody out?

So cool movie, cool packaging; what else do you need to know? Buy this.

BR
’03

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