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American Splendor

Starring Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis and Harvey Pekar
Screenplay by Shari Berman and Bob Pulcini
Based on books by Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner
Directed by Shari Berman and Bob Pulcini
website: www.americansplendor.com

IN SHORT: Splendid. Another addition to our Best of the Year list. [Rated R for language. 100 minutes]

When push comes to shove there really isn't much we expect a movie to deliver. At minimum we expect a clearly told story involving a character that we can identify with. It doesn't much matter if we like the character or not. We just have to believe that the character is "real" within the story that plays out on the big screen. When a film tries to recreate a true story, especially one which we are fairly familiar with, it dances with disaster -- at least in this case we know who Harvey Pekar is and what he does and what he's been through in his life. It's part of our job as a critic to park those preconceptions at the door and judge solely on what we see on the big screen.

American Splendor is the story of a guy who, at least as far as he portrays himself in his writing, never wanted to be any more than an ordinary guy. The film, which draws from Pekar's American Splendor" comic books plus material from "Our Cancer Year," co-written with Joyce Brabner is a flat-out, hands down winner. Within ten minutes we liked the guy whose story was being told on screen. By the time all is said and done we discover the extraordinary in the just plain ordinary existence of a just plain ordinary guy.

Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) is a self-described "insecure, obsessive and paranoid" everyman. We learn early on that Pekar has no great affinity for super heroes or basic boyhood fantasy icons. He wears gloom and doom like Al Capp's character from Li'l Abner, Joe Btfsplk, who was followed everywhere by a personal storm cloud. Pekar lives in a rundown Cleveland neighborhood and toils as a file clerk at a local V.A. hospital. His best friend seems to be the mentally challenged co-worker Toby Radloff (Judah Friedlander). A neighbor named "Bob" (James Urbaniak) similarly toils at the American Greeting Cards corporate office. Bob and Harvey become friends because both like jazz. Bob also likes to draw cartoon stories and will exit the picture for San Francisco, where the "underground comix" scene blossomed in the late 1960s.

"Bob" is better known as Robert Crumb, a name which should be familiar to anyone who knows 'toons Fritz the Cat or Mr. Natural or the cover art for many albums by the Grateful Dead. Crumb's place in pop history is a done deal. He, with Pekar and others would form the core of that comix biz that crossed into the mainstream. American Splendor isn't about comics. It's a blue collar love story; how the shlub Pekar found love with one of his reading public (Joyce Brabner played by Hope Davis) and a small amount of fame when fans poneyed up the money to turn his comic into an LA stage play (with Donal Logue and Molly Shannon as Harvey and Joyce in that version) and a talk show host named David Letterman kept calling to book Harvey on his show. It didn't make him any money and it sure didn't swell his head with notions of fame. The on air bust up, so to speak, between Letterman and Pekar was infamous in its day and ranks among the greatest of talk show moments.

Still, when the last word is written in the Book of Life, Harvey Pekar was a shlub of a file clerk who lived like a pig, had few friends and never expected to marry -- most certainly because he doesn't want children and has already had himself fixed. Shlubs can be wrong and, in a strange parallel to Sly Stallone's Rocky, there is an incredible amount of pleasure to be derived while watching the guy's best never made plans go awry.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to American Splendor, he would have paid . . .

$9.00

American Splendor is an extraordinary film. It's simple and touching and as long as you're past your teenage years, gives you more than enough hooks to make those vital connections that pulls an audience deep into the screen story. Highly recommended

amazon com link Click to buy books by Harvey Pekar
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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.