Saturday, March 21, 2009


"American Splendor" (2003) is a movie based on Harvey Pekar's extremely realistic but entertaining slice-of-life, auoto-biographical comic book of the same name. This is a movie that can be appreciated whether you have read his comics or not. I personally have read all the "American Splendor" comics that pertain to this movie and I must say that this is a surprisingly faithful cinematic adaptation of Harvey Pekar's work. The script was not written by Harvey Pekar but you can't tell. Watching this movie is just like reading his comics. What this movie does is take samplings from all of Pekar's work and blend them into a cohesive story about the life and times of this great writer. Of course Harvey's stories are very realistic, so realistic in fact that is hard to distinguish where the comic book ends and his real life begins. They are as one.

In a nutshell, "American Splendor" covers the life of Harvey Pekar ( perfectly played by Paul Giamatti) from the days of his pre-comic book career to the time he met Robert Crumb and began making his own comics, to his third and final marriage and surviving his ordeal with cancer. Along the way we meet several interesting characters. You have of course the brilliant underground comics artist/writer Robert Crumb, who agreed to illustrate Harvey's first comics. Crumb's character is played dead on by James Uburniak. Another great character is Toby, who works with Pekar at his file clerk job at the V.A. hospital. Toby (played by Judah Friedlander) is an eccentric character, a true nerd, and his presence and personality are heartfelt throughout the movie. Mr. Boats is another great character. Mr. Boats is a funny and eccentric older black man who also works with Pekar at the hospital. His character is well interpreted by Earl Billings. All of the acting performances in this movie are well done and the way these actors portray their characters is completely faithful to the comic.

There are several unique things about this movie that I like. It uses the form of a comic book to frame the movie. A panel taken from the comic will suddenly turn to live action, zoom in, and this is where a new scene starts. This movie is constantly juxtaposing illustraions from the comic with the live action. A good example of this would be when Joyce Brabner, Pekar's new wife to be, flies in for the first time to meet Harvey. She is at the airport looking for Harvey, going through her head thinking about all the different ways he is portrayed in his comics. With every person she sees, a diffferent image of Harvey pops up on the screen, and she wonders if this is the one.

Something I really love about this movie is the fact that the real people "American Splendor" is based on play an active role in the story. The movie constantly cuts in to the real Harvey Pekar, as he adds his own narration and viewpoints to the several mini stories that unfold inside this movie. You also get to see the real Toby and the real Joyce Brabner giving their take on things.

Another great moment is all the David Letterman appearances made by Harvey. Each one is presented very faithfully. Most of the time they showed the original vintage David Letterman episode. I remember staying up late at night as a teenager to make sure I caught the shows with Harvey, and let me tell you, his appearances were always eventful, high strung, and controversial.

I don't want to give away too much of what happens in this movie, so let me close by saying that "American Splendor" is packed with emotion. It is an intense, heartwarming yet gut wrenching account of the life and times of one man. His story is not exciting all of the time, but it is always entertaining, and you will want to come back to it again and again.

No comments: