American Splendor (2003)


Harvey Pekar wrote a comic book about his life called “American Splendor,” which published throughout the decades and gained a devoted fanbase. Its long string of success eventually led to a film adaptation. The movie version tried to retain a lot of the quirks of the source material, going so far as to have Pekar himself appear in the film. Right from the start, we see that this is going to be an unusually crafted but very clever film, as we see young Harvey trick or treating. All of the children are dressed as DC Comics characters, but when we see Harvey, he’sdressed as himself. There are many interludes and much narration, including descriptions of Pekar writing about his life. There are even parts where the real Pekar talks about the movie itself. The plot is mostly the story of Pekar’s life chronologically, but it feels a bit mishmashed, almost disjointed, kind of like <>Napoleon Dynamite<>. Paul Giamatti (who I will always remember for his role as Pig Vomit in <>Private Parts<>), a very serviceable B actor who puts up Aactor performances, turns in a good job in this picture. Hope Davis puts in a stellar effort as love interest Joyce Brabner, and there are plenty of solid supporting acts as well. Very few complaints about the cast are to be had, but the characters are not as sterling. Pekar’s life is boring and uninteresting, the kind none of us would want to live. Curiously, the patheticness of his existenceactually makes it somewhat amusing to follow along as a third party. However, although there are a fair number of jokes and funny moments in the movie (including when Pekar meets Brabner), many of the characters are not necessarily ikeable. While their gruffness and oddities make them amusing, that doesn’t translate into sympathy. Towards the end of the film, the good parts and bad parts of Pekar’s life seem almost clinical. If I felt bad about anything, it’s that he had to live such a miserable life. American Splendor is a fantastic example of how filmmakers can play around with the medium, and many good actors are used to help the film evolve. However, the source material is conflicting, being both the source of comedy and an unfortunate emotional disconnect. Harvey is a funny guy and an interesting character, but he’s more of a funny “I’m laughing at you, not with you.” He doesn’t elicit much compassion from an audience, although who’s to say we wouldn’t be neurotic and off-kilter if our own nooses were tightened just a little more?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s